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 last October.
Bianchi never regained consciousness after he hit a recovery vehicle head-on at the 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 Ferrari.
“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 team 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.” theguardian.com