One To Watch: Jules Bianchi

One To WatchPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Jules Bianchi could follow the likes of Hamilton and Rosberg into F1 with ART
Jules Bianchi could follow the likes of Hamilton and Rosberg into F1 with ART

Jules Bianchi captured the F3 Euroseries on home ground in Dijon today.

He’s the latest driver on the ART Grand Prix conveyor belt, which brought drivers likes Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg into F1.

Now halfway along their production line, a future stint in GP2 and thereafter Formula 1 looks increasingly likely for Bianchi.

The ART of getting into F1

If any team can lay claim to being the manufacturer of F1 drivers, it has to be GP2 and F3 Euroseries outfit ART Grand Prix. Their hit-rate is second to none.

Nico Rosberg got his F1 break in 2006 after winning the inaugural GP2 title for them in 2005. They also (as ASM) won the F3 Euroseries championship in 2005 with Lewis Hamilton. He graduated to GP2 with the team in 2006, won that title and reached F1 with McLaren in 2007.

Paul di Resta was the F3 Euroseries champion for ASM in 2007 but, like fellow Briton Jamie Green, ended up in the DTM driving for Mercedes. However Sebastian Vettel was di Resta’s team mate and championship runner-up, and he made his F1 debut the following year, bypassing GP2 altogether.

Romain Grosjean won the 2007 F3 Euroseries for ASM, and moved up to GP2 with ART the following year. He didn’t win the championship, but he joined F1 with Renault this year.

Now Nico H???lkenberg looks on the verge of entering F1 having won the F3 Euroseries title for ART (having re-branded ASM) in 2008, and claiming the GP2 title this year.

It’s not quite an unbroken run of success, but if you’re a young driver trying to break into F1, you can’t do much better than being picked up by ART. Fortunately for Jules Bianchi, he did just that at the beginning of last year.

F3 Euroseries champion

Bianchi made his F3 debut with ART in 2008, and by the end of the year was often able to give champion H???lkenberg a run for his money. The 19-year-old started his second season this year as the clear favourite to win the title.

It’s far harder for driver to repeat Hamilton’s 2005 feat of winning 15 of the 20 rounds, because there are no longer separate qualifying sessions for each race. Instead the top eight finishers for race one are reversed to create the starting order for the second race in each double-header meeting.

Nonetheless Bianchi has been impressively consistent in qualifying well for the first race, winning it, and picking up a decent points score in the second event:

Event Race 1 grid Race 1 result Race 2 result
Hockenheim 5 5 3
Lausitzring 2 1 14
Norisring 2 1 3
Zandvoort 1 1 1
Oschersleben 1 1 6
Nurburgring 1 1 5
Brands Hatch 16 DNF DNF
Circuit de Catalunya 1 1 5
Dijon 1 2 1

*Race yet to run

Bianchi’s only major setback en route to the championship was a frightening crash in the first race at Brands Hatch.

A mistake in qualifying left him 16th on the grid, and when he tried to pass Tiago Geronimi around the outside of the Paddock Hill bend the Brazilian driver gave him scarcely any room and the two crashed heavily. See the video below:

His weekend was a write-off but he retained a healthy championship advantage and now, with two more races at Hockenheim left to run, Bianchi is un-catchable on the championship.

With only ten F3 Euroseries weekends to consume his time, Bianchi has been dabbling in other categories. He showed up at the British F3 series’ first meeting at the Algarve circuit in Portugal and won both races.

He appeared in the same championship at Spa, gathering useful experience of an F1 venue, setting fastest lap and finishing second in the first race. His second race was spoiled after he was demoted on the grid for a technical infringement.

He used the World Series by Renault to get some experience of another of F1’s most demanding venues – Monte-Carlo. He qualified at the back of the grid but accumulated precious mileage at the Monaco circuit.

Bianchi’s racing heritage

At the same track 50 years ago, Jules’ uncle Lucien made his first start in an F1 race, driving an F2 car for Equipe Nationale Belge (unlike Jules, Lucien was Belgian). He made sporadic appearances in F1 over the next few years but enjoyed most of his success in other classes.

Lucien won the Tour de France rally three times and several sports car races. He also entered the Indianapolis 500 in 1967, but was bumped during qualifiyng after he had flown to the Nurburgring to contest the 1,000km race for Porsche. His crowning achievement was victory in the 1968 Le Mans 24 Hours with fellow F1 driver Pedro Rodriguez.

That year Lucien had finally got a regular F1 drive with Cooper and scored the best result of his career at Monaco, finishing third. Sadly, Lucien was killed after the end of the season while testing an Alfa T33 at Le Mans in a crash on the Mulsanne straight.

Jules’ grandfather Mauro was also a racing driver, winning the GT championship for Abarth three times.

As with so many modern F1 drivers, Jules started karting when he was very young – just three years old. He only moved into single-seater racing two years ago, winning the Formula Renault 2.0 series on his first attempt, with five wins and pole positions in 13 races.

It was that impressive debut performance that led ART to pick him up. He is managed by Nicolas Todt, who also runs Felipe Massa’s affairs.

The ART conveyor belt has whirred into motion once again, and already the young Biachi has been testing their GP2 car in anticipation of his graduation to the full series next year (and possibly GP2 Asia in the meantime). It seems increasingly likely that in Bianchi we are looking at France’s next F1 driver.

Jules Bianchi pictures

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Images ?? Alastair Staley / GP2 Media Service, F3 Euroseries