My heart sank. “She didn’t make it through the night,” read the text message, and I felt every one of the many thousands of kilometres I was away from home. I’d lost a close friend, and knew that my emotions would be all over the place on a Thursday in a packed Suzuka media centre, not an ideal place to grieve.
Fast-forward a few hours, and while the message came from across the table rather than my phone, it was near-identical. “I lost a mate,” said Daniel Ricciardo as we huddled in the Red Bull hospitality unit, the skies dark, the rain streaming down as it was a year ago on the day Jules Bianchi suffered the crash that was to eventually end his life. “It’s pretty much how we left it,” he said to nobody in particular as he swept his arm towards the sodden circuit.
My task for Thursday was to write a feature about, of all things, loss. Maybe the task helped me with my own feelings, maybe it intensified them. The rest of the world wouldn’t care much for mine, but Daniel’s about his friend Jules were a lot more newsworthy. It’s rare in any sport to get an athlete to open up on grief, on loss, on bigger-picture topics outside of what ball they kick or hit, what car they drive, what bike they ride. But Daniel did open up, and the result was hard to listen to, enormously revealing about his character, and couldn’t have been put better. Australian sport, and F1 as a whole, is lucky to have him.
Last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix was always going to be tinged with a degree of sadness after Bianchi’s accident at Suzuka 12 months ago, and those feelings were only heightened when the first two days of the race meeting took place under grey skies and on a wet track. As the weather improved, Suzuka was at its most splendid, in this writer’s view the best track in the world, and seeing the best drivers tackle it was as thrilling as ever. The circuit was and always is a positive; what wasn’t were headlines about Red Bull throwing tantrums (again) and the usual paddock BS masquerading as informed speculation as to which teams and drivers will be where next season (gotta get those clicks). All things that seemed a little irrelevant when you lose someone important to you. Daniel would concur.
A review of all the goings-on at Suzuka is the focus of Episode 120 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week. Check it out.