(Reuters) - French Formula One driver Jules Bianchi has died of critical head injuries sustained at last year’s Japanese Grand Prix, his family said in a statement on Saturday. He was 25.
Bianchi had been in a coma since the accident at Suzuka last October. He passed away at a hospital in Nice, near his parents’ home in the south of France.
“Jules fought right to the very end, as he always did, but today his battle came to an end,” said the Bianchi family.
“The pain we feel is immense and indescribable.”
Bianchi was the first driver since Brazilian triple world champion Ayrton Senna, at Italy’s Imola circuit in May 1994, to die from injuries sustained during a grand prix weekend.
“We are devastated to lose Jules after such a hard-fought battle,” his Manor F1 team Tweeted. “It was a privilege to have him race for our team.”
The Frenchman suffered severe head injuries when, in wet conditions and fading light, his Marussia slammed into a recovery tractor while it was attempting to remove Adrian Sutil’s crashed Sauber.
Television images of the Oct. 5 accident, which were not publicly broadcast but have since been posted on the internet, showed the Marussia’s roll hoop had been entirely ripped off in the massive impact.
The race was stopped and the unconscious driver was extracted from the wrecked car and taken by road ambulance to the nearby hospital.
Bianchi, who was also contracted to Ferrari and was considered to have a bright future in the sport, was initially treated in the Mie General Medical Centre in Yokkaichi.
His parents and siblings flew out from France and were a constant presence at his bedside, hoping against hope for a miracle.
‘HEARTS AND MINDS’
An International Automobile Federation (FIA) report said in December that the Frenchman had not slowed sufficiently under warning flags before crashing.
The report found that Bianchi’s car hit the tractor at 126 kph and said medical services were not at fault in their handling of the aftermath.
His family praised medical staff in Nice and Mie Prefecture for their care over the last nine months and asked for privacy as they sought to come to terms with the loss.
“Listening to and reading the many messages made us realize just how much Jules had touched the hearts and minds of so many people all over the world,” the statement said.
“We would like to ask that our privacy is respected during this difficult time, while we try to come to terms with the loss of Jules.”
Bianchi’s father, Philippe, had told French radio earlier this month that he was “less optimistic” of a recovery. In May he said they had been preparing for the worst.
“It’s hard to get up in the morning while telling yourself that you’re not sure whether your son is going to live and every day is like that,” he said.
Reporting by Peter Rutherford and Alan Baldwin.; Editing by Nick Mulvenney