The value of sport to those who compete is how it makes them feel, and it’s the same for us as fans – we remember competitors for how they make us feel.
There is a duality to this, and whilst racing can bring us joy and excitement in a sport where drivers are highly skilled and disciplined and the events are regulated to the highest standards, all these things are met in opposition with tragedy, scares, dumb luck and perhaps complacency from those who call the shots.
In 2014, no driver brought us as fans more powerful emotions than Jules Bianchi did.
He’d proven himself a consistently quick driver in a poor car, and in Monaco scored Marussia’s only points in their near half-decade as a team with an extremely determined and measured drive. On that day, many drivers with years of experience behind them and better cars in their hands faltered and fell to attrition, whereas Jules guided the Marussia home to its first and only points in F1 after getting his elbows out and making one of the passes of the season for me – not because of the technique in the pass, but in the mentality Jules showed making it.
He KNEW Monaco was likely his only chance to score points due to the DNF’s of cars that would typically be ahead, and how difficult it is to pass. He recognized the opportunity and went after it, all or nothing, and his resolve was rewarded. There’s a spark of racing genius in that, and Jules proved on that day that he has the spirit of a champion. His future in the sport as Ferrari’s man for the future seemed so certain…
As a man, he was hard not to like. This was someone who fully appreciated how lucky they were to be racing cars for a living, but it didn’t go to his head. I remember, I believe a BBC interview with him where he walked into the room and shook hands with all the tech guys, not just the TV personalities. To me this said that he recognized everyone there was doing their job, same as he does, and racing cars or being on TV doesn’t make you any better than the people who don’t get recognition.
I’ve just turned 23, and I’ve been a Formula One fan all my life – it’s been my love, and anyone who’s spoken to me knows this. I have a very, very vague memory of Ayrton Senna being killed, but I was too young to appreciate the significance of the tragedy until I was looking back over the history of the sport some years later, myself. In my entire time watching F1 live I must have seen hundreds of high-impact crashes and tens of them will have made anyone watching live hold their breath until they see the driver moving, hear their voice on the radio saying they’re fine, or otherwise having their safety confirmed.
You always knew and understood that the danger was there – the speed of the vehicles, the power and torque propelling them forwards with only carbon fibre wings holding them to the ground, the open wheels, the driver’s heads exposed all along with cars/debris being launched at over 200 MPH in areas with Marshals and grandstands full of fans, you always knew the potential for tragedy was there, and we’ve had some close calls.
As someone of my generation, however, you never looked at any of these drivers and seriously thought that anything happening on the track might result in their long-term health or lives being seriously compromised. Jules still lives and has hope for a recovery, but I feel the events at Suzuka have had the same effect on the psyche of my generation of F1 fans as JFK being assassinated did on the general public of the USA, it’s the loss of our innocence. We’ve seen that our seemingly invincible heroes who have so often emerged from danger unscathed, don’t always do so, and for the first time we’ve felt this trauma.
The image of his car sitting in its garage at the next race in Sochi, fully assembled, ready to race, beckoning it’s stricken pilot to return, imploring him to recover is one of the most powerful images I’ve seen – it’s the only time F1 brought a tear to my eye. It was just right there in front of us that irrespective of his fate as a human being, the sport had certainly lost a highly thought of and promising young sportsman before they’d reached their prime. A dream certain to be fulfilled, had vanished in an instant.
There was a real shadow cast over the last few races of the season. Who cares about mere podiums, wins, championships, champagne, trophies, upgrades, racing lines or who’s going to be driving for who next season? Someone we all care about is fighting for their life as a result of this. It’s difficult to find enjoyment in a sport when such a tragedy looms over it, everything else seems trivial. We have to remember the joy Jules experienced and shared with us racing, and that there’s a grid full of drivers who have now probably imagined themselves in his place, continuing to go into the breach, continuing to race.
Not a day passes when I don’t think of Jules’ situation, and it doesn’t get any less sad. I check the news several times a day, hoping for an improvement in his condition.
I’ve made it my New Year’s resolution to enjoy racing again. With any human pursuit you can think of a million and one reasons not to do it, not to enjoy what you’re doing or watching. There’s a duality in life, it’s nature – and you can’t shy away from what you love for the negative feelings it may occasionally bring into your life.
Yes, 2014 was a hard year for us. Ferrari’s greatest hero, Michael Schumacher, and their man for the future have both had their lives seriously compromised, but we have so much to be thankful for. We’re in a golden age of driver talent with exciting young blood clashing with the established old guard, and we have exciting new technology luring big name manufacturers back into the sport.
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If like me you became disillusioned with F1 in light of Jules’ tragedy, please join me in continuing to hope for his recovery whilst remembering why he went racing in the first place. He obviously loved competing in F1, the happiness radiated from him, and I refuse to become disenchanted with the sport over someone who obviously loves it as much as I do.