F1 pays last respects to Bianchi

Source:AFP Published: 2015-7-21 22:58:01

F1 world says goodbye to young French driver in Nice

German F1 driver Nico Rosberg arrives for the necrological rites of French driver Jules Bianchi at the Sainte-Reparate Cathedral in Nice, France on Tuesday. Photo: CFP

Formula One turned out in force on Tuesday to pay its last respects to Jules Bianchi at the 25-year-old French driver's ­funeral in his hometown of Nice.

World champion Lewis Hamilton and many of Bianchi's pit lane colleagues joined family and friends of the ­talented young Marussia driver who died in Nice on Friday, nine months after his devastating accident at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Two giant portraits of Bianchi in full racing gear adorned the walls either side of the ­cathedral's main entrance.

His coffin, with his No.17 helmet resting on it, was carried from the hearse into the cathedral by a group of young drivers, described by Father ­Sylvain Brison as Bianchi's "racing brothers."

With The Eagles' haunting 1970s anthem "Hotel California" playing in the background, the coffin was carried up the ­cathedral's central aisle.

Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg, who had made the short trip from their homes in Monaco, as well as Jean Todt, head of F1's governing body, the FIA, and the French Sports Minister Thierry Braillard, were in attendance for what Bianchi's parents had requested was to be an intimate farewell to their son.

"Jules' death is deeply unjust," Father Brison told the mourners in the Sainte-­Reparate Cathedral situated in Nice's historic old town.

"He was happy, because he had turned his dream into reality."

F1 "was his life, his vocation. He was a champion blessed with a rare talent, as well as ­being a young man whose ­stature was as high as the depth of his humility."

He concluded the service by saying, "Jules never managed to make it on to the F1 podium, and so I ask you to applaud him now," which the emotional gathering, both inside and outside the cathedral, duly did for several minutes.

Sebastian Vettel, the four-time former world champion, helped carry the coffin out of the cathedral in a poignant ­reminder that if fate had not cruelly intervened Bianchi would have joined the German as Kimi Raikkonen's replacement at Ferrari next season.

Bianchi was the first F1 driver to die as a result of a racing accident since triple world champion Ayrton Senna in San Marino in 1994.

And Senna's arch-rival, Alain Prost, was among the mourners saying goodbye to Bianchi as were Romain Grosjean, Felipe Massa and Olivier Panis.

Bianchi suffered a ­traumatic brain injury when his car ­careered off the rain-drenched Suzuka circuit during the Japanese Grand Prix on October 5 and smashed into a recovery truck at around 200 kilometers an hour. He had been fighting for his life since under controlled medical conditions in a Nice hospital.

The FIA has announced that in Bianchi's honor it had retired his No.17 car.

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