How I will remember Jules Bianchi

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When I look back at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix and think of Jules Bianchi, there is one moment that stands out above all others.

It is not the accident at the Dunlop Curve that was to leave the prodigiously talented Frenchman with injuries that would so cruelly rob him of his life nine months later, but three letters on a timing ticker that have somehow stuck so firmly in my mind ever since that fateful day last October.

Rewind to the early stages of what is set to be a captivating race at a sodden Suzuka circuit. After a lengthy rain delay, the safety car has peeled in and the field are slowly filtering into the pits to swap their wet tyres for intermediate rubber.

The two Mercedes drivers, so dominant, and so untouchable, stay out, a law unto themselves out in front. Yet behind the squabbling Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, an unfamiliar name has popped himself into third place. That car, is the unfancied Marussia, piloted by Jules Bianchi.

The Jules Bianchi that, in the first two seasons of his Formula One career, has dragged an uncompetitive car into such remarkable places that he is being hotly tipped as a future Ferrari driver, a fact that Luca di Montezemolo has since confirmed would almost certainly have become a reality.

The Jules Bianchi that, in just 34 starts, has regularly turned what should have been a four-man battle between Marussia and Caterham into a race of his own, roundly decimating an equally inexperienced teammate in the form of Max Chilton in the process.

The Jules Bianchi, that, in one of the great underdog performances of Grand Prix racing in the 21st century, has somehow bagged Marussia its first ever points in a remarkably courageous drive through the streets of Monaco, giving the sport what is almost certainly the most popular ninth place finish of all time.

Now, Jules Bianchi is, for the first time ever, running in a net podium position at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Although clearly an artificial placing due to the shuffling of the deck that so often occurs through a pit stop phase, I remember seeing that number three – followed by the letters BIA – at the bottom of the screen, and thinking that this would be just the first of many times that Bianchi would occupy such a position, at the sharp end of a Grand Prix field, where he deserved to belong.

Little was I to know that just an hour later would strike a tragic turn of fate that was to so tragically rob him of all of the promise, all of the potential, and all of the success that, from a young age, he had seemed so destined for.

When I cast my eye back in years to come and remember Jules Bianchi, I will fight the urge to think about what might, what could, what should have been. Instead, I will try and think of that magical day in Monaco, the joy that such a defiant racer brought to so many people, and then take a step back and think how thankful I am that I was fortunate enough to see such a remarkably talented and charismatic man race a Formula One car.

For here was a boy who followed his dream, an almost impossible dream, and made it a reality.

And how many of us are blessed enough to be able to say that?

#CiaoJules

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Stephen D’Albiac

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