French Formula One racing driver Jules Bianchi died Saturday, after sustaining serious injuries during a race last year, which left him in a coma for the nine months he survived afterward.
Bianchi, who was 25 and drove for the Marussia team (since renamed Manor), sustained major head injuries at the rain-soaked 2014 Japanese Grand Prix. In the slippery conditions, his car flew off the circuit and struck a large tractor -- which was recovering another car -- at high speed.
In a statement posted on Bianchi's fan club page on Facebook, his family said: “Jules fought right to the very end, as he always did, but today his battle came to an end. The pain we feel is immense and indescribable.
“We thank Jules’ colleagues, friends, fans and everyone who has demonstrated their affection for him over these past months, which gave us great strength and helped us deal with such difficult times. 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.”
His team also reacted to the news of the driver's death, saying on Twitter: “We are devastated to lose Jules after such a hard-fought battle. It was a privilege to have him race for our team.”
Bianchi's death is the first time a Formula One driver has died as a result of injuries suffered while racing since 1994, when three-time world champion Ayrton Senna, and Roland Ratzenburger died in separate incidents during the San Marino Grand Prix weekend.
A report published by the Accident Panel of the FIA, Formula One's governing body, on the crash in December 2014 concluded that, before the accident, Bianchi "did not slow sufficiently to avoid losing control," BBC reported.
Formula One's organizers, however, also introduced new technology in the aftermath of the accident, a so-called “virtual safety car” -- a system of track-side lights that imposes a speed limit and a ban on overtaking -- to be used when recovery vehicles of the kind involved in Bianchi's accident are on track.
While Bianchi is the first driver to lose his life in Formula One in over two decades, there have been other fatalities related to the sport during that period. In 2013, a track-side safety marshal was killed at the Canadian Grand Prix after falling under the wheels of a mobile crane, which was recovering a crashed race car. In 2001, two marshals were killed after being struck by wheels and debris flying off cars that had crashed at high speed.