Norman Nato to race with number 17 in Formula E in honour of Jules Bianchi

Sam Cooper
Jules Bianchi's number 17. Singapore, September 2014.

Jules Bianchi's number 17. Singapore, September 2014.

Norman Nato will race with the number 17 in Formula E next season as a mark of respect to his fellow French driver, the late Jules Bianchi.

Bianchi died in July 2015 as a result of his crash at Suzuka the previous year. The Frenchman lost control of his car in wet conditions and collided with a tractor that was on the circuit to clear another previously crashed car.

It was the first Formula 1 driver death as a result of a crash since Ayrton Senna in 1994 and remains the most recent fatality.

The impact of Bianchi’s death was felt throughout the sport given Bianchi’s promising career ahead of him as well as his friendship with many of the current Formula 1 drivers.

While the number 17 has been retired in Formula 1, it is free to be used in other series and that is exactly what Nato will be doing in the 2023 Formula E season.

Posting on Instagram, the Frenchman said it was the number he originally used in karting and the fact that Bianchi raced with it was “even more special” for him.

“Happy and proud to race under number 17 in Formula E,” Nato said. “This number means a lot to me. I started in karting and won championships with the 17.

“Jules also raced in F1 with this number which makes it even more special for me. Can’t wait to get started.”

It appears Nato has the Bianchi family’s blessing with Jules’ father Philippe commenting three heart emojis under Nato’s post.

Jules Bianchi’s legacy looms large even seven years after his death

For a sport that has come so far in terms of safety, Jules Bianchi’s death was a shocking reminder of the dangers of F1.

Suzuka was experiencing the early effects of an oncoming typhoon and as a result, the circuit was perilous for the drivers to race on.

Sauber’s Adrian Sutil was the first to lose control as he smashed into the barriers but while the German-Uruguayan walked away with relatively few injuries, the incident sent in motion a series of events that would cost Bianchi his life.

A tractor rolled onto the run-off area and was in the process of lifting the destroyed Sauber away when, just a lap later, Bianchi lost control at the same place but instead of hitting the barrier, the Frenchman went headfirst into the tractor.

He suffered a diffuse axonal injury and it was described by doctors as a miracle that he had survived. Even after he awoke from his coma, the prognosis was not good and in July the following year, he died as a result of his injuries.

The incident stunned the world of Formula 1 with the last death having occurred 20 years ago and after a wave of regulations had been implemented to make the sport safer.

The FIA launched an investigation and concluded that a series of events resulted in Bianchi’s death. As a result, daytime races were not allowed to start less than four hours before sunset or dusk, changes to when removal vehicles on the track are allowed were made and adding cover to the cockpit, in what would become the halo, was discussed.

The sport was given a grim reminder of Bianchi’s death again this year when the sport returned to Suzuka. Pierre Gasly fumed as during wet and dark conditions, a tractor was actually on the circuit as he drove by at speed.

“What is this tractor?! What is this tractor on track?” Gasly shouted.

“I passed next to it, this is unacceptable! Remember what has happened,” he said in relation to his close friend Bianchi. “I don’t believe this!”

Even Bianchi’s father described the incident as disrespectful to his son and every driver was on Gasly’s rather than the FIA’s side.

Thankfully Gasly escaped without injury but the FIA did concede changes were needed to rules under the Safety Car.

While the sport has had no deaths since Bianchi, with fellow Frenchman Romain Grosjean being living proof of the  progress in terms of safety, the 2022 race in Suzuka reminded everyone that Formula 1 cannot be allowed to believe the job is done.

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