LONDON • French President Francois Hollande and Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone yesterday led the flood of tributes to Jules Bianchi, the F1 driver who died nine months after a horror crash at the Japanese Grand Prix.
The 25-year-old French driver's family announced the news on his official Twitter feed late on Friday, and it was later confirmed by the Manor F1 team.
He had been in a coma since the Oct 5 accident, which saw his car career off the rain-drenched Suzuka circuit and smash into a recovery truck - which was picking up another crashed car - at around 200kmh.
He is the first F1 driver to die of injuries suffered in a grand prix since Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian triple world champion, was killed at Italy's Imola circuit in 1994.
"French motorsport has lost one of its greatest hopes," Mr Hollande said in a statement. "My thoughts are with his parents, his family and his friends."
Jules Bianchi’s accident occurred at the end of the Japanese Grand Prix on Oct 5 last year.
In rainy, gloomy conditions, his car slid off the track and ploughed into a crane picking up the Sauber of German driver Adrian Sutil, who had crashed at the same spot one lap earlier.
The section of the track where the accident occurred was subject to double yellow flags from race stewards, due to Sutil’s crash. But they failed to prevent a second accident.
The International Automobile Federation found that as Bianchi went off the track into the run-off area, he “applied both throttle and brake together, using both feet”, thus over-riding the fail-safe mechanism. His front wheels had also locked. It also said that Bianchi “did not slow sufficiently to avoid losing control”.
The findings prompted Formula One to alter its rules, allowing a “virtual safety car” in which race stewards can neutralise a race, forcing all cars to proceed slowly into the pit lane.
The start times of some races were also moved forward to prevent them continuing in dim-light conditions.
Ecclestone, the sport's chief executive, added: "It was so sad to hear the news about Jules. We are now going to miss a very talented driver and a really nice person. We must not let this ever happen again."
Senna's nephew, racing driver Bruno, agreed with Ecclestone, saying: "Hope the lessons we learned will stop more tragedies like these from happening. RIP."
A statement issued by Bianchi's parents Philippe and Christine, his brother Tom and sister Melanie said: "Jules fought right to the very end, as he always did, but today his battle came to an end. The pain we feel is immense and indescribable."
John Booth, team principal of Marussia, now called Manor F1, said: "Words cannot describe the enormous sadness within our team this morning, as we come to terms with losing Jules.
"He has left an indelible mark on all our lives, and will forever be part of everything we have achieved, and everything we will strive for going forward."
On Monday, Philippe Bianchi had spoken about having become "less optimistic" about his son's chances of recovery.
"It's impossible," he told radio station France Info. "You sometimes feel like you are going mad. For me, it is more terrible than if he had died in the accident because we have no power to help him more."
Bianchi died at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in his home town of Nice, where he had been since his emergency treatment in Japan in the days after the accident.
He had been tipped by many to be the next great French champion. His death ended a promising career that he hoped would see him join the elite ranks of the Ferrari racing team, something the young driver said he felt "ready" to do next season, just three days before that fateful race in Japan.
He had emerged from the Ferrari academy with a glowing reputation and was a test driver for the Maranello glamour team before joining Ferrari-powered Marussia.
The Scuderia posted their own Twitter tribute, saying: "Ciao Jules, forever in the hearts of Ferrari."
Fellow drivers also praised Bianchi, who competed in 34 races over the 2013 and 2014 seasons, scoring the first championship points for Manor by finishing fifth at last year's Monaco race.
Former Marussia driver Max Chilton, who raced as team-mate to Bianchi for two years in F1, said: "No words can describe what his family & the sport have lost. All I can say is it was a pleasure knowing and racing you."
Former F1 world champion Jenson Button described Bianchi as "a truly great guy and a real fighter".
Born in Nice in 1989 to Italian parents, Bianchi had racing in his genes.
His grandfather Mauro was a renowned F3 driver, a three-time world champion in GT cars, and one of the great stars of motorsport during the 1960s.
His father was a specialist in kart racing.
But Bianchi's death also recalled another tragic piece of family history: His grand-uncle Lucien, who drove in 17 grands prix, was also killed in a crash while racing in 1969 at the age of 34.
THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE