BUDAPEST: Will Stevens paid tribute to Jules Bianchi on Thursday (Friday in Manila), claiming the French driver had been key to the survival of their team in Formula One.
The 24-year-old Briton, who regarded the Frenchman as an inspiration, finally made it to the top this year with a seat at the revamped Manor Marussia team that had been home for Bianchi in 2014.
More than anyone, therefore, he understood the importance of Bianchi’s ninth-place finish at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, a result that secured the promise of prize money that helped keep the struggling outfit alive.
Bianchi’s death last Friday, nine months after colliding with a recovery vehicle in torrential rain at last October’s Japanese Grand Prix, and his funeral on Tuesday have left Stevens and Marussia reflecting in somber mood.
“I knew him from an early age in karting and wherever he was, there was never a bad word said about him,” said Stevens ahead of this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
“He was a really great guy.”
As to his legacy to Marussia, he added: “The difference Jules made last year, in Monaco, is absolutely key to us still being here. There’s not a single member of the team who underestimates everything he did for this team.
“Without his contribution, things for this team would be very different now.
“It’s been a difficult week, and one — as a team — we have to deal with and move forwards. We all need to stick together to gather our thoughts and clearly the weekend is going to be tough.”
Asked about safety, Stevens was philosophical.
“We’re never going to make it 100 per cent safe, but with the advances we’ve made over the past few years, it is now actually incredibly safe,” he said.
“Obviously the one remaining factor is impact to the head, which, in an open cockpit, is always going to be there.
“That’s one thing that needs to be looked at, but it’s very difficult to get away from things like that entirely.”
On the possibility of introducing closed cockpits, Stevens said he was not in favor.
“F1 has always been open cockpit and if it’s been like that for ever then, personally, I think it should continue, but safety is the number one priority—and if the systems come in place, to improve things, then we need to look at it.”