Belfast Telegraph

Jules Bianchi: F1 driver mourned at funeral

Jules Bianchi has been remembered as a "humble" winner in a Formula One career cut short in the sport's first deadly crash in more than 20 years.

With his race helmet perched on his coffin, mourners gathered in Nice for the funeral of the French driver, who died on Friday after nine months in a coma following the crash during last year's Japanese Grand Prix.

"He was so natural, humble. F1 is a complicated profession, often you can lose touch with reality - he always knew how to remain humble, nice with everybody and that made him different from the others," his manager Nicolas Todt, the son of FIA president Jean Todt, said.

Born into the sport, Bianchi competed in 34 races over the 2013 and 2014 seasons, scoring the first ever championship points for Manor - then known as Marussia - by finishing ninth at last year's Monaco Grand Prix.

Bianchi had been in a coma since the accident on October 5, in which he collided at high speed with a mobile crane that was picking up another crashed car.

Bianchi's family had already lost a member in a crash. In 1969, his great-uncle Lucien died in an accident during testing at the Le Mans race track when he crashed his Alfa Romeo into a post, a year after winning the prestigious endurance race. Bianchi's grandfather Mauro also raced.

Outside the service, French driver Jean-Eric Vergne said: "He wrote the history of F1. (Bianchi) has contributed enormously and will watch over us all."

Solemn applause resonated as the family took the coffin inside Sainte Reparate Cathedral, then church bells sounded.

Among the mourners were F1 stars Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and four-times champion Alain Prost.

Bianchi was the first driver to die of injuries sustained in an F1 race since Ayrton Senna was killed at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

Luca di Montezemolo: Jules Bianchi was one of us

Jules Bianchi was being lined up as a future Ferrari driver, according to the Italian team's former chairman Luca di Montezemolo.

The 25-year-old died last Friday following the devastating brain injuries he sustained in a crash at the Japanese Grand Prix on October 5.

Bianchi never regained consciousness after he hit a recovery vehicle head-on at the rain-lashed race in Suzuka, and became the first Formula One driver to die as a result of injuries at a grand prix weekend since three-time world champion Ayrton Senna was killed in San Marino in May 1994.

The Frenchman was driving for the Manor-Marussia at the time of the accident but he had been guided by Ferrari, who had helped secure his F1 debut and planned to switch him to Sauber for this season, and Di Montezemolo said he would have eventually replaced Kimi Raikkonen at the Maranello outfit.

"Jules Bianchi was one of us," Di Montezemolo told Sky Sports Italia.

"He was a member of the Ferrari family and was the driver we had picked for the future - once the collaboration with Raikkonen was over.

"He was first class: private, fast, polite, very attached to Ferrari and promising."

Di Montezemolo, who left Ferrari at the end of last year, added: "A bitter fate has taken him away from us, leaving us with a huge void.

"I am close to his family, which in recent months has shown great courage in these difficult times, as well as his many friends at Ferrari.

"We lost a great guy, and we will remember him with great affection."

Bianchi's funeral will be staged in his home city of Nice on Tuesday with executives from his Manor-Marussia team, FIA president Jean Todt and his son Nicolas Todt, Bianchi's manager in F1, expected to attend.

Vijay Mallya, team principal at Force India, has become the latest F1 figure to pay tribute to Bianchi, describing him as "a tremendous talent" as well as "a friend".

Bianchi was a reserve driver for the Silverstone-based outfit during the 2012 season and participated in nine Friday free practice sessions at various race weekends that year.

"The thoughts of everyone at Sahara Force India are with the friends and family of Jules Bianchi at this terrible moment," said a Force India statement released from Mallya on their Facebook page.

"We had the pleasure of working with Jules during 2012 (as the team's third driver) where he left a strong impression on everyone in the team.

"We came to know an outstanding young man and a tremendous talent who was destined for great things in Formula One.

"The world has lost a true racer and we have all lost a friend."

This weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix promises to be a sombre event following Bianchi's death and the Grand Prix Drivers' Association insists safety in F1 should never be compromised.

"It is at times like this that we are brutally reminded of how dangerous racing still remains," a GPDA statement read.

"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."

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