If you haven’t heard yet, Jules Bianchi is moving to Force India, to take up the 3rd driver role and participate in Friday free practice sessions. The Frenchman, who comes from a family with racing pedigree (his grandfather was 3x world champion in the GT category and his father’s brother was a winner of Le Mans and a F1 racer from 1959 – 1958) has an ongoing collaboration with Ferrari. He is managed by Nicholas Todt (also a manager of a certain Felipe Massa) and has climbed the motor sport ladder in convincing fashion. From karting, to French Formula Renault champion, to Masters of Formula 3 winner, to dominating the F3 Euroseries alongside team-mates Valtteri Bottas (2012 Williams’ 3rd driver) and Esteban Gutierrez (2012 Sauber’s 3rd driver).
His Ferrari association peaked when he participated in the 2011 Abu Dhabi Young Drivers test, where he displayed maturity and speed. However, his meteoric rise to the top seems to have stalled a bit, following two consecutive fruitless seasons in GP2 Asia and GP2 Series, which yielded few race wins or poles and no championships, against decent but not mouth-drooling competition.
Bianchi had the option to remain in GP2 for another year, but his move to Force India makes a hell of a lot more sense. To start with, another season in GP2 would not have guaranteed a championship, and in that case the perception of him by the F1 circus would suffer as a result.
Furthermore, Force India are known to test drivers who are seriously considering for a race seat. He is, hence, going to a team who will consider him for a driver if he delivers the kind of performance and maturity that they expect. His contract with FI allegedly assures at least 9 Fridays of running, which is a great opportunity for Bianchi to get some exposure and put his name out there, next to some decent laptimes.
Once cannot help but consider the possibility that Ferrari had a role in this deal and that they will be monitoring the young Frenchman’s performances very closely. In my opinion, it’s an indication that they have started to accept the fact that Massa will not continue in 2013 and are preparing all the alternative solutions. One is Sergio Perez, who has acquitted himself nicely in his rookie year. Mark Webber is the 2nd one, and now Jules Bianchi could be the third, but definitely not for 2013 (Ferrari won’t take a rookie) but for the years to come, provided Jules does well and lands a race seat in 2013.
Anyone else sees Perez moving up to Ferrari and Bianchi stepping in at Sauber? Kobayashi should be alarmed with the news of Bianchi signing for FI’s, for it’s his job on the line in 2012. Sauber will be happy to go with Gutierres and Bianchi if Kamui doesn’t show considerable steps of improvement, particularly in qualifying which remains his weak spot.