It was a nice gesture, a touching one, but ultimately one that felt a little bit empty. The FIA’s decision to permanently retire the number 17 in Formula One as a tribute to Jules Bianchi was poignant and appropriate, but perhaps some fact-checking would have been in order first.
When the drivers were asked to choose their preferred race numbers for the 2014 season as F1 moved to system of permanent numbers for drivers, any claims on a number by more than one driver would be settled by which driver finished higher in the 2013 championship. Bianchi wanted number 7, which Kimi Raikkonen grabbed first. Next choice was 27, but that wasn’t an option thanks to Nico Hulkenberg. And finally he wanted 77, which Valtteri Bottas had already laid claims on. And so he was left, as a fourth choice, with 17 – and that’ll be the number forever associated with him. The sentiment was right, but did 17 really mean that much to Bianchi?
My preference would have been to see the corner where Bianchi crashed at Suzuka last year, the Dunlop Curve, renamed in his honour. What better tribute could be made than a name as a permanent reminder at one of the world’s most revered racetracks, a circuit with such iconic corner names as 130R, Spoon, the Degners and so on? It would be a circuit-specific acknowledgement to a man who died at that very track doing what he loved. Something more meaningful. One man’s opinion, that’s all. And besides, in the grand scheme of things, any way to remember Jules Bianchi is better than not doing something permanent at all.
The F1 grid arrived in Hungary with heavy hearts for round 10 of the season last weekend – with so many of the current drivers attending Bianchi’s funeral the Tuesday prior, it was always going to be a sombre, emotional affair.
On Episode 111 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week, we look back at the final race before the mid-season break, and the sport’s tribute to one of its own who was taken from it and all of us far too early.