The death of Jules Bianchi in 2015, nine months after his horrific accident during the Japanese Grand Prix, shocked the world but few were more devastated than the promising Frenchman’s inner circle of which Daniel Ricciardo was one.
Bianchi was the first Formula 1 driver to die during a race since Ayrton Senna perished at Imola in 1994, the 25-year-old Frenchman’s peers and rivals had never experienced such a tragedy on such a huge stage.
Bianchi and Riccardo were rivals on track but proper friends off it too, the pair often hanging out and travelling together in their junior years. The bond remained throughout their rise through the ranks and continued when they met again in Formula 1 – Bianchi with Marussia and Ricciardo at Red Bull.
Speaking during his final podcast as a Red Bull driver, Ricciardo opened up on coping with the tragedy at the time and to this day, “A lot happened in 2015, more on a personal level, with life.”
“Jules’ passing affected me more than I ever would have thought. I had a few other things going on in my life at that time that in a way shaped me into this next version of who I am.”
The 2015 Hungarian Grand Prix marked the first F1 race after the passing of Bianchi on 17 July 2015, he had remained hospitalised in a coma for nine months after that fateful day at Suzuka.
Ricciardo recalled, “The first race back was Budapest and that was my first podium that year, a double podium for the team, and I remember the whole weekend was very emotional. To get a podium there felt massive, it was a huge relief and a moment of gratitude.”
Fast forward to 2018, the big smiling Australian endured another tough season, one in which he lost the balance of power within the energy drinks team after wresting it from Sebastian Vettel in 2014.
With Max Verstappen the team’s golden boy, Ricciardo was prompted to make a career-changing decision by accepting a big bucks offer to race for Renault, and ditching his alma mater.
Reflecting on the season past, he said, “I thought 2015 was challenging, on and off-track, but this year the on-track stuff’s been more challenging than ever.”
“Also just other things, a lot of people have been trying to help, just trying to figure out who is really trying to help and who is not,” added Ricciardo who will line-up for his 151st grand prix start at the season opener at Albert Park in March, on that day he will lower himself into a yellow and black cockpit rather than blue one.