MONACO (AP) — With Jules Bianchi still recovering from life-threatening head injuries in a nearby hospital, this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix will be tinged with both sadness and fond memories for the Manor team.
It was at last year’s Monaco GP that the French driver secured a ninth-place finish, the best in the short history of the team then known as Marussia.
A few months later, Bianchi was fighting for his life after a horrific accident at a gloomy, rain-soaked Japanese Grand Prix in October.
Encouragingly, he started showing signs of recovery a month later, when he was taken out of an artificial coma and repatriated from Japan to a hospital in Nice, close to Monaco on the French Riviera. Although still critical, he was breathing unaided.
“It’s a very special occasion for the whole sport, but for our team it carries an even greater significance as the scene of so much jubilation 12 months ago when Jules delivered our first championship points,” Manor team principal John Booth said. “That was an incredible, unforgettable day and it is very important to everyone in the team that we honor what Jules achieved for us.”
Bianchi’s ninth-place finish, worth two points, was a huge result financially as it secured ninth place in the constructors’ championship and a cash windfall. It was a key factor in the team being able return — rebranded as Manor — to Formula One in 2015 after falling into financial trouble at the end of last year.
“It’s a big part of the reason we are back racing today,” Booth said. “Consequently, despite our obvious sadness, this weekend we will remember and celebrate what was a very important milestone in the team’s history and what was, above all, a mighty race performance from Jules.”
British driver Will Stevens, who is racing for Manor this weekend, remembers being highly impressed by Bianchi, who was touted as a future star of the sport and part of Ferrari’s young drivers’ program.
“I was only watching then, but that was some race,” Stevens said. “It will be an emotional weekend for the team as we remember Jules’ amazing achievement here last year.”
The Manor team will wear red wristbands — the color of the team — during this weekend’s race as a tribute to the 25-year-old Bianchi, who crashed in Suzuka on Oct. 5.
His car slid off the track and plowed head-first into a crane picking up the Sauber of German driver Adrian Sutil, who crashed at the same spot one lap earlier. The section of the track where the accident occurred was subject to double yellow flags from race stewards because of Sutil’s crash. But they failed to prevent a second accident.
Brazilian driver Felipe Massa, who survived a life-threatening head injury when racing in 2009, called it “the worst race of my life.”
Massa posted a picture on Twitter of Bianchi and the Marussia team at Monaco last year with the message, “Missing you here bro.”
A 10-man working group was set up to review the accident. That led to a new safety measure being approved in the form of a “virtual safety car” which can be used to neutralize a race on the orders of a course clerk.
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