NICE, France (AP) — Tributes poured in for French driver Jules Bianchi, who died from injuries sustained in a head-on crash during the Japanese Grand Prix last October.
The 25-year-old Bianchi died in a hospital in his hometown of Nice, his family said in a statement released early Saturday.
Nice was about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the track where he sealed the best performance of his young Formula One career, the Monaco Grand Prix. It was on Monaco’s tight and sinewy circuit last year that Bianchi, driving for Marussia — now known as Manor Marussia — finished in ninth place and gave the unheralded team its best finish and first points in F1.
“Words cannot describe the enormous sadness within our team this morning, as we come to terms with losing Jules,” said John Booth, team principal of Manor Marussia. “He has left an indelible mark on all our lives, and will forever be part of everything we have achieved, and everything we will strive for going forward.”
Bianchi’s drive that day was a mixture of flair, steely determination, and panache; exactly the traits that were spotted in him early on, when he was touted as a future star after graduating from the Ferrari academy in 2009. He competed in 34 grand prix.
“Jules was a shining talent. He was destined for great things in our sport: Success he so richly deserved,” Booth said in a statement. “He was also a magnificent human being, making a lasting impression on countless people all over the world … he was an extremely warm, humble and intensely likable person who lit up our garage and our lives.”
F1 champion Lewis Hamilton tweeted: “A sad, sad day today, guys. Please pray for Jules’ loved ones. RIP Jules. God bless.” His Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg also offered his condolences.
Bianchi was a much-liked driver in the sometimes edgy and brittle F1 championship.
Countryman Romain Grosjean, a rival driver for Lotus, expressed that reality in this tweet: “Yesterday we lost one of the best guys and best drivers I’ve ever met. I’ll miss you so much my friend.”
British driver Max Chilton, Bianchi’s teammate last year, tweeted: “No words can describe what his family and the sport have lost. All I can say it was a pleasure knowing and racing you.”
McLaren tweeted: “The thoughts of everybody at McLaren are with the friends and family of Jules Bianchi. You will be sorely missed. (hashtag)RIPJules (hashtag)ForzaJules”
Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne, who raced against Grosjean and Bianchi, said: “I have no words… We will miss you my old friend…” Alongside his tweet, Vergne added a photo of a fresh-faced Bianchi, the joy and optimism clear on his face.
As part of its online tributes, L’Equipe’s website showed a collection of pictures of a young Bianchi.
One showed Bianchi aged 4, driving a toy go-kart, a look of fixed concentration on his face, and another with proud father and son together after a junior karting race.
“He only had that (racing) in mind,” his father Philippe said in an interview with Var-Matin newspaper. “We looked after a track in Antibes and he would spend his time watching the customers going around the tarmac. As soon as his feet touched the pedals, he wanted to climb into a kart.”
Former F1 driver Jean Alesi, who raced in 202 GPs, also paid his respects.
“He fought right until the end. We thought a miracle could happen,” Alesi told RMC radio. “He was an endearing boy, very fair on the track and outside of it. He was well loved. He was joie de vivre personified. It’s a shock for everyone.”
Bianchi was from racing stock.
His great uncle Lucien Bianchi raced in 17 GPs and competed in the Le Mans 24 Hours. He died in 1969, in an accident during testing at the Le Mans track, a year after winning the race.
“The world of motor sport is in mourning today,” motor sport’s governing body FIA said in a statement. “The sport has lost one of the most talented drivers of this generation, from a family that has such a strong presence in the history of the sport.”
Bianchi is the first driver to die of injuries sustained in an F1 race since three-time world champion Ayrton Senna and Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger were killed at the 1994 San Marino GP.
Bianchi died at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Nice, where he had been since his emergency treatment in Japan in the days after the accident.
“Twenty-one years after the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger, we have now lost Jules, who has died as a direct consequence of an on-track accident,” the Grand Prix Drivers Association said in a statement. “Despite considerable improvements, we, the Grand Prix drivers, owe it to the racing community, to the lost ones and to Jules, his family and friends, to never relent in improving safety.”
Bianchi’s accident occurred at the end of the race at the Suzuka circuit. In rainy, gloomy conditions, Bianchi’s car slid off the track and ploughed into a crane picking up the Sauber of German driver Adrian Sutil, who crashed in the same spot one lap earlier.
“Last night we lost a truly great guy and a real fighter,” British driver Jenson Button, the 2009 F1 champion, tweeted.
Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas of the Williams team tweeted “You will be never forgotten.”
Nicolas Deschaux, the president of the French Motorsport Federation, paid tribute on France Info radio.
“Jules Bianchi was one of the surest hopes for French motorsport,” Deschaux said. “He was brimming with talent and well-liked by all drivers. The world of motorsport is grieving today.”
Tributes came in from outside of F1, and outside of sport itself.
The Elysee Palace of French President Francois Hollande expressed its “sincere condolences.”
World rally champion Sebastien Ogier tweeted: “So sad to hear Jules Bianchi passed away,” while French tennis player Caroline Garcia said, “Such sadness to hear about the death of Jules Bianchi at the age of 25.”
Luc Alphand, a former French Alpine skier who then switched sports and drove in the Dakar Rally, said on BFMTV that “when destiny strikes in this way, it’s truly awful.”
AP Sports Writer Chris Lines in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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