22 Jul 2015

Bianchi laid to rest

5:48 am on 22 July 2015

Formula One world champions past and present have paid their respects to Jules Bianchi at the French driver's funeral in the south of France.

The current world champion Lewis Hamilton attended the service in Nice, along with former champions Alain Prost, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel, farewelling 25 year old Bianchi who died late last week, nine months after he skidded off the track and colllided with a recovery tractor at the Japanese Grand Prix.

French formula one driver Jules Bianchi.

French formula one driver Jules Bianchi. Photo: Photosport

The Marussia driver, who had been tipped as a star of the future, had been in a coma since the accident at Suzuka.

He was the sport's first driver fatality as the result of race injuries since Brazil's triple world champion Ayrton Senna and Austrian Roland Ratzenberger died at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in 1994.

Hundreds of fans gathered outside the cathedral, where large portraits of Bianchi in racing overalls were displayed above floral tributes, and applauded the late driver as the coffin was carried in by his peers.

His helmet was placed on top.

French media said parish priest Sylvain Brison told the congregation that, while Bianchi's death was "profoundly unjust", the driver had been "happy because he had made his dream come true.

"Jules never stood on a Formula One podium, so I ask you to applaud him now."

Friend and compatriot Jean-Eric Vergne, the former Toro Rosso racer and current Ferrari test driver, said Bianchi was "an extraordinary man, as beautiful inside and outside and now he is in heaven with F1's biggest names.

"He will stay a champion forever in our hearts."

Bianchi had made his Formula One debut with Ferrari-powered Marussia in 2013, scoring that team's first and to date only points in Monaco last year when he finished ninth.

Formula One's governing body, the FIA whose French president Jean Todt attended the funeral, announced on Monday that Bianchi's chosen number 17 would be retired from the world championship.

"Formula One is a complicated job... but he always remained humble, nice with everybody," said Todt's son Nicolas, Bianchi's manager, outside the cathedral.

"So I think this gentleness he had made the difference between him and the others."

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.