Behind the quiet voice and calm exterior, above all Jules Bianchi was a determined racer. Although he never sat in the cockpit of an F1 car that could fully convey his talent to the rest of the world, his performances in junior series and Ferrari's unwavering support through its driver academy hinted at his potential.
Coming from a racing family, he was destined for a life in motorsport from an early age. His great uncle Lucien Bianchi had achieved the most success in the family, driving in Formula One, and even scoring a podium, but was killed at the wheel while testing an Alfa Romeo for the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours - an event he had won the previous year. That Jules suffered a similar fate is a dreadful coincidence, but a reminder of the risk each and every racing driver has committed to since the dawn of motor racing.
Bianchi first drove a go-kart aged three and started racing just two years later as he set off on an impressive junior career. In 2003 he was signed up by Maranello Karting before graduating to single-seaters in 2007. In his first year driving in Formula Renault 2.0 he won the French championship by 49 points and scored points in the full European series on his debut.
Managed by Nicolas Todt - the son of ex-Ferrari team principal and current FIA president Jean - Bianchi moved up to the F3 Euro Series in 2008, finishing third overall, and then won the championship with nine wins the following year. With that victory he earned a test in a Ferrari F1 car and was quickly snapped up into the newly-developing Ferrari Driver Academy, which continued to support him throughout the rest of his life.
GP2 was the next logical step and Bianchi finished the 2010 season in third place in the championship behind Sergio Perez and Pastor Maldonado. He again finished third the following year as Romain Grosjean won the title, but also got his first major break in F1 as he was named as Force India's reserve driver for 2012. With GP2 set to clash with his nine Friday practice outings with Force India, Bianchi lined up against an impressive field of young talent in Formula Renault 3.5 to keep his racecraft up to speed. The season got off to a bad start as he was disqualified from a second place finish due to a technical irregularity with his car's differential. It came back to haunt him at the final round when he lost the championship by four points under equally controversial circumstances. Title rival Robin Frijns had just been passed by Bianchi and, as Frijns looked set to lose another place to Kevin Magnuessen, he caused a collision that took Bianchi out of the race.
The title dream was over, but Bianchi still emerged as a serious contender for a race seat in Formula One and again it was with Force India. After much deliberation, Force India finally made a decision at the final pre-season test to opt for the experienced Adrian Sutil for the 2013 season, leaving Bianchi in the lurch. But just 24 hours later he was called up by Marussia to race the entire season, replacing Luiz Razia whose financial backers had failed to cough up.
Bianchi's debut season was a success, with his early performances catching the eye and his season-long domination of Max Chilton underlining his talent. At a small team at the back of the grid, a driver can often only be measured against his team-mate, and in that category Bianchi was winning hands down. It was announced at the start of October that year that he would remain with Marussia for a second season in 2014, although it was clear he was worthy of a drive higher up the grid. He knew he had to impress in 2014, but in the smallest team on the grid he would have to take his chances.
The golden opportunity came during the Monaco Grand Prix when Bianchi took the headline result he had been craving and scored Marussia's first points in five seasons of competition in F1. To prove it wasn't just luck, Bianchi underlined his talent with three Q2 appearances in qualifying between the British and Belgian Grands Prix later in the season. Arguably these were the drives that really made him stand out within the paddock, even if the Monaco points had given him more kudos outside the sport.
Bianchi was being referred to as the "real deal" long before his Suzuka accident. He was capable of qualifying and racing his Marussia in places where it did not deserve to be and was loved all the more by the team for it. It was soon becoming clear he had the potential to be given a chance further up the grid, perhaps in 2015, but tragically that day never came.