Unless you’ve somehow managed to live completely “off the grid” for the past few months, by now you’ve likely seen the footage online of Jules Bianchi’s stomach-churning crash in the October 4th running of the Japanese Grand Prix. In short, on lap 46—in a driving downpour brought on by Typhoon Phanfome—Adrian Suitil’s disabled Sauber was being lifted off-course by a crane, when Jules Bianchi’s Marussia screamed across the soggy grass and “submarined” under the crane with such force that it raised the entire crane off the ground and moved it back several feet. For those of us unfortunate enough to have seen the footage, you can also see that Bianchi’s helmeted head made sickening contact with the heavy counterweights that hang off the back of the crane. As of the writing of this column, in mid-October, Bianchi remains in precarious and critical condition in Yokkaichi hospital, with “diffuse axonal injuries,” which translates to extreme brain and/or spinal trauma. As with all extreme motorsport injuries, this is a horrible, horrible trauma to befall the driver and his loved ones. In Bianchi’s case, this is perhaps made all the worse by virtue of the fact that the Bianchi family is no stranger to motorsport loss.
Jules’s grand-uncle was also a Formula One pilot. Lucien Bianchi first became involved in motorsport when he entered the Alpine Rally in 1951. By 1957, Bianchi won the first of a consecutive hat trick of Tour de France victories, at the wheel of a Ferrari 250 LWB, co-driven with fellow Belgian Olivier Gendebien. By 1959, Bianchi got his first crack at Formula One driving a variety of chassis for the independent ENB team, before landing a factory seat, with the Cooper-BRM team in 1968. While his best Grand Prix finish would only be a 3rd, Bianchi excelled in endurance racing, where he stepped to the top of the winner’s rostrum at Sebring in 1962 and at Le Mans in 1968. However, tragedy struck the following year at Le Mans, when Bianchi lost control of his Alfa Romeo T33 on the Mulsanne Straight, resulting in it striking a telegraph pole and killing Bianchi instantly.
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