When youth is lost: We’ll never fully witness Jules Bianchi’s greatness


Death in racing is always a hard thing to swallow, no matter the driver or individual involved, no matter the age.

Yet it’s when drivers are taken before they have the opportunity to reach the zenith of their potential that the hurt cuts deeper.

Jules Bianchi, who was 25, is now one of those drivers.

Admittedly, Bianchi’s crash last year at Suzuka always had a severity and magnitude that would forever alter his career trajectory.

If he survived, he’d need a miracle. If granted that miracle, he’d need another miracle to race again. If he’d secured two miracles, he’d need another chance to advance from Marussia into Ferrari, where he was always destined to drive.

It never happened. It never had a chance of happening.

What has followed the last nine months has been almost as excruciating, if not more so, than the immediate impact itself.

But while the last nine months have still provided a glimmer of hope, however scant or remote, the late news Friday confirms the fact that Bianchi will never have that chance to show the world his greatness once more.

With young drivers, often all you have to judge them on is potential, a word I consider one of the most dangerous in the English language.

When you’re branded with “potential,” it means you have talent – God-given or otherwise acquired as you develop – and it’s up to you to fully exploit it. You do so by how you fare in your opportunities and how you work with the people around you to maximize your result in whatever discipline you’re in.

In racing, that’s a word often bestowed on young drivers, sometimes with merit, sometimes with hope.

Jules Bianchi had potential. He had metric tons of it.

The kid was destined for Ferrari for the better part of five years, if not longer, and his performances in merely his first year and a half on the F1 grid showcased what was going to be the start of an impressive career.

It was the 2013 equivalent of Alonso at Minardi or Senna at Toleman. A Marussia-Cosworth had no business being where it was those first few Grands Prix.

Yet Bianchi emerged as a superstar after he’d been drafted into the seat only at the last minute, carrying a steely resolve from the off after being passed over at Force India for Adrian Sutil and then taking over at Marussia once Luiz Razia’s sponsor backed out.

He’d starred in the junior categories as well, which vaulted him into his potential superstardom.

This was all before Monaco, of course, and now that most famous ninth place finish.

But there are names now that Bianchi will forever be compared with: those gone too talented, gone way too soon.

In my lifetime, it’s Greg Moore and Sean Edwards – like Bianchi, two fairly shy, humble, down-to-earth, yet beautiful personalities outside the cockpit who once their helmets went on, unleashed their inner beasts.

Moore was only 24. He, like Bianchi, was all but destined for the top team – he’d signed with Team Penske to join the team for its rebranded, relaunched and recalibrated 2000 CART season along with Gil de Ferran. He’d not had the best equipment in his four years in CART but he often made the most of it, starring on ovals but frequently slowed by mechanical woes.

His death was sudden, and abrupt. He lost control off Turn 2 at what was then-California Speedway before his car hit the grass, went over backwards and into the wall – cockpit-side first – in one of the most horrific accidents I’ve ever witnessed.

Moore’s successor, Helio Castroneves, has been with Team Penske ever since. He’s won three Indianapolis 500s, won 29 races and come second in the championship four times over an illustrious 16-year period of his own.

Edwards, who was 26, was destined for sports car superstardom. Just type in “Sean Edwards Nurburgring” on YouTube. Do it right now. Or wait ‘til you’ve finished reading. But either way, do it soon.

Heroics at the “Green Hell” were merely a fraction of Edwards’ arsenal and he would have all but certainly joined the ranks of Porsche factory drivers, if another manufacturer didn’t swoop him up first. Who knows if he, and not new recruits Nick Tandy and/or Earl Bamber, might have got the nod for an LMP1 ride at Le Mans this year?

We’ll never know, sadly, after an abnormal type of crash where he was killed in the passenger’s seat in a training accident in Australia. Not that it helps ease the pain any, but Edwards’ death was a catalyst for the Motorsport Safety Foundation – which is doing great work to make racing safer – to hit its next level. The Sean Edwards Foundation has been active in improvements, as well.

There are countless others, of course. NASCAR rising stars Adam Petty and Kenny Irwin Jr. were cruelly lost within months of each other at the same track in 2000. Jason Leffler starred on short tracks, but never had the right timing in NASCAR or open-wheel on big ones. Tony Renna had the best chance to succeed in open-wheel when he’d signed with Chip Ganassi Racing. Allan Simonsen showcased his ability in sports cars, most notably at Bathurst. Jeff Krosnoff was in a first-year engine program when he finally got his CART shot. Gonzalo Rodriguez raced and beat Juan Pablo Montoya in F3000 and impressed in limited CART races with Team Penske before his accident.

From an F1 perspective, we’re perhaps fortunate we don’t have recent examples – Bianchi is the first driver to die in a race meeting since Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger at the nightmare weekend that was the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

But drivers like Stefan Bellof, Tony Brise, Roger Williamson, Tom Pryce and Francois Cevert – the latter of whom had won Grands Prix but not yet a World Championship – are among those where the talent was there, and the future was there, before all lost their battles.

Bianchi’s battle ends on the day when his all-but-destined future seat looks set to be filled by someone else. And it’s not that Valtteri Bottas isn’t deserving – he is – if and when he is officially confirmed by the Scuderia.

Yet the pain here for race insiders, observers and fans is that we’ll never know what Jules Bianchi could have fully achieved on the track.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).