Hungarian Grand Prix 2015: Jules Bianchi casts a long shadow over first race since his tragic death

Drivers prepare for emotionally charged day in first grand prix since colleague’s death

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The Independent Online

The drivers made it very clear this weekend that once the visors went down, the only thing in their minds was focusing on driving. But many admitted here at the Hungarian Grand Prix that they were hurting outside their cars. Everywhere you looked, there was iconography commemorating Jules Bianchi, who died on 17 July following his accident in Japan last October. For a 25-year-old, the handsome young man from Nice cast a long shadow.

Many cars and helmets bore the #JB17 logo, while along the top of their cockpits the Ferraris bore the words “JULES – nei constri cuori; JULES” –  in our hearts.

His face grave and his voice raw with suppressed emotion, Manor Marussia’s sporting director Graeme Lowdon honoured his team’s driver on Friday. “To be honest, it’s been a very difficult nine months and this weekend has been more difficult than I thought,” he said.

 

“But I have to say it has been made a lot easier by the F1 family. Jules was universally liked in the paddock and the support of everybody to the team has been fantastic.”

It was Lowdon and team principal John Booth who carried the shattered team through the Russian GP which followed immediately after the Japanese GP in which Bianchi had suffered the very serious diffuse axonal head injuries to which he succumbed last week.

Lowdon rallied the team in Sochi, Booth held a lonely vigil at the General Medical Centre in the Mie Prefecture close to the Suzuka circuit. And their efforts alone ensured that the team survived to continue in Bianchi’s memory.

“I think the reason why everyone has found it so difficult is the sense of loss,” Lowdon said, as he described how hard it had been for a new generation of racing folk to come to terms with the first fatality from injuries incurred in a grand prix race for 21 years.

Bianchi’s funeral took place at the Sainte Reparate Cathedral in Nice on Tuesday.  Lowdon added: “Looking around the cathedral on Tuesday there were just so many people there and they had all lost something in some way, whether it was a colleague; if it’s a mechanic they’ve lost their driver, even in the media you’ve lost a person that you knew and that you interviewed; people had lost team-mates that they raced against.

“If you look at the teams, ART, Manor, Force India, Ferrari, they had lost a team member and it was just this overwhelming sense of loss, really. And I think what was very clear was that nobody had lost more than the Bianchi family.

“I have to say, I drew enormous strength from Jules’ family. For everyone that knows them, they are an incredibly close and loving family and Philippe and Christine have had to endure something that I can’t really comprehend over the last nine months and my heart really does go out to them.

“I have to say that in everything we have done with the family, the warmth and compassion, just everything that they have done, has been incredibly respectful and loving and it’s been enormously helpful and I’m sure not just to me – we don’t have a monopoly on feeling sad about what’s happened. It’s touched an awful lot of people and I think Jules’ family have really carried themselves in an incredible way, in a situation that I couldn’t really comprehend.

“I think the danger, as ever, is that you focus on what you’ve lost and not what’s been gained by knowing Jules. He was somebody who added so much to so many people’s lives. He could not wait to get into our Formula One car. And yet he displayed a trait that you don’t often see these days, sadly; he was incredibly grateful that he had the chance to be in Formula One and he knew he was going to be good at driving the car.

“What I remember most is that from the minute he walked into our garage to the minute we said goodbye it was an absolute pleasure to work with him and I dearly miss him now that he’s not here.”

After everyone had got over the scare of seeing Sergio Perez’s inverted Force India on Friday, it was business as usual with the Mercedes leading the pack. Lewis Hamilton was fastest in every practice and qualifying session on a track he suggests is fast becoming his favourite, and blew an unhappy Nico Rosberg away as the latter struggled with his car’s balance.

Sebastian Vettel was relieved to recover to third after numerous problems at Ferrari on Friday, but will be casting a wary eye over at Daniel Ricciardo after Red Bull had their most competitive qualifying session of the season with last year’s winner taking fourth place.

A sixth 2015 victory and a fifth success here would set Hamilton up nicely before the season’s break. “I’m taking all the right steps possible to make sure it’s a nice summer break, not just for me but for all the people in the team,” he said.