Manor set for emotional Japanese GP weekend

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Manor Marussia F1 Team is bracing itself for an emotional Japanese Grand Prix weekend as it returns to Suzuka one year on from Jules Bianchi’s devastating accident.

In the closing stages of last year’s race, Bianchi careered off-track at high speed in wet conditions and into the path of a recovery vehicle that had been deployed to collect Adrian Sutil’s stricken Sauber car.

The Frenchman sustained a severe head injury that left him in a coma for nine months. He ultimately succumbed to his injuries in July, dying at the age of 25.

Speaking ahead of the race at Suzuka, team principal John Booth spoke fondly of Bianchi, acknowledging that this weekend would be tough for everyone at Manor.

“After the high of a positive Singapore Grand Prix, we head to Japan hopeful of a similarly strong performance this weekend,” Booth said. “There will, however, be a rather more challenging backdrop for our team in Suzuka, after Jules’ devastating accident here last season.

“There is no escaping the fact that this will be an extremely emotional week for us. Many of the team members who were with us in 2014 are back with us this year, including our colleagues at Scuderia Ferrari and of course Will [Stevens] and Alexander [Rossi], both of whom were in Suzuka last year in their roles as reserve drivers.

“It will also be a different emotional experience again from Monaco, a place full of so many special memories for our team, and Hungary, where we all had to say a very difficult goodbye to a greatly-loved friend and colleague.

“We think of Jules every single day; he will forever be a huge part of our team. Without doubt, our memories are overwhelmingly happy ones, celebrating his incredible achievements in our race cars and the enjoyable times we shared along the way.

“Jules’ funeral reminded us that he was a special gift to so many people, not least of all the magnificent Bianchi family, who are always in our thoughts and prayers. We were Jules’ team, and with that in mind I would ask everyone to understand and respect that, this weekend, we wish to deal with the experience of returning to Suzuka in a very private way.

“Jules has not only been constantly in our thoughts since that terrible day in 2014, but his name has also been on our car at every single race. That tribute, our incredibly fond memories of Jules and the camaraderie we have within our team are all we need to race on in his honour in Suzuka this weekend.”

Flowers and other tokens have already been laid at Suzuka paying tribute to Bianchi, and a number of flags have already been spotted in the grandstands ahead of what is poised to be an emotional weekend for everyone in the paddock.