By the time Jules Bianchi’s death was announced on Saturday morning, it was sadly not much of a surprise. Just last week his father Philippe said he was feeling less optimistic, adding: “it certainly is more terrible than if he had died.”
Much is being made of what Jules Bianchi could have achieved. It is difficult to know for sure. He was being groomed by Ferrari and it is likely he would have gone on to race for them. Who knows what his future would have held.
We can, however, reflect on what he had already achieved. His most significant achievement in Formula 1 is being the only driver to have scored a point for one of the teams that were new to F1 in 2010. He did so at the sport’s trickiest and most prestigious grand prix. With 9th place for Marussia at Monaco last year, he broke the glass ceiling. No-one else has done it since.
Jules Bianchi’s is the first death of a driver to have resulted from injuries sustained during a grand prix since Ayrton Senna in 1994. That fact serves as a reminder that a sport that is fundamentally dangerous has made great progress in terms of safety in the past few decades. It also shows why the pursuit of greater safety must never end.
We knew there would be another death one day. There will be another death in future.
The safety measures that are continually being brought in will help mean we can — if we are lucky — go another 21 years or more without seeing another tragedy.
Ayrton Senna’s death came before I started watching F1. By the time I became hooked in 1996 as a ten year old, I knew the dangers inherent in motorsport. But a death in F1 seemed unimaginable for many of the years I was watching.
Since then, as a fan of other forms of motorsport, I have watched in horror as fatal accidents unfolded.
Times like this make me question myself as a motorsport fan. I am no less likely to watch F1 as a result of Jules Bianchi’s death. Many of us who are honest with ourselves will admit that danger is part of the thrill.
Danger, you hope not of death. But danger nonetheless. Danger of running wide. Danger of a prang. Danger of having a big one — and then, you hope, walking away unscathed. Formula 1 is a 200 mile an hour highwire act. It wouldn’t have any appeal if it wasn’t.
While it is easy to focus on the superstars, it should be remembered that a number of marshals have died while volunteering at grands prix. These people work hard to make racing safe for the participants. It is not just the drivers we need to make F1 safe for.
Nor is it just the races that need to be safe. It is thought that last year’s death of María de Villota came as a result of injuries sustained during a testing accident in 2013. Her accident has some parallels with Jules Bianchi’s, providing a clue as to some of the areas where F1 needs to improve its safety.
It is a dark day for Formula 1 and motorsport. The sport can take the opportunity to learn the lessons that are required.
It is also a chance for us to reflect on Jules Bianchi’s achievements.