Jules Bianchi was one of the hot favourites for this year's GP2 title. He was by no means the only tip for the crown given the level of experience at the front of the field, but he was definitely expected to be in the thick of the fight.
Yet before the season has even reached halfway, Bianchi is 26 points adrift in the standings. And after another weekend to forget in Valencia, he went as far as ruling himself out of title contention for 2011.
The Ferrari junior driver's nightmare campaign has led to talk of whether he is cut out for the top level of the sport. But there is a lot more to his season to forget than simply not having the pace to run at the front.
The weekend got off to a solid, if unspectacular start. Bianchi was in the fight for pole, but ended up fourth after a poorly-timed red flag caught him out.
Despite having the pace to fight for the win, the ART driver finished third, more than 30 seconds adrift of the lead scrap between Romain Grosjean and Sam Bird. But that doesn't tell the full story.
Bianchi is racing for ART this season © LAT
The lead duo were able to break away from the entire field as Bianchi was caught up battling some fast starters that had jumped him. A slow pitstop then left him in traffic, when a clean stop could have had him in clear track and chasing down the leaders.
Instead, he spent several laps battling his way into third place, which explained the huge gap by the end.
But it was what happened on the Sunday that set the tone for Bianchi's season. While battling in a frantic opening lap, Grosjean got sideways as he tried to exit the final corner on the inside of his countryman. The DAMS driver then flicked his steering to the right, seemingly to correct the slide, but it also meant he hit Bianchi hard enough to spin him around.
Bianchi's fightback to seventh from 23rd was impressive, but it didn't add anything on the scoresheet.
To suggest that Bianchi had his doubts about Grosjean's conduct in Turkey would be an understatement. But his misfortunes in Spain were far more self-inflicted.
Showing no hangover from a tough season opener, he took pole position for the main race, setting a quick time early on when the track was at its best.
However, this had coincided with Fabio Leimer's Rapax car being stopped by the side of the track after he broke down at Turn 5. Most of the field accepted that the yellow flags on track had cost them the chance of doing a quick lap when the fragile Pirelli tyres were at their best and backed off significantly.
Bianchi, who had so far only set a slow benchmark time, was on his first proper hot lap, so despite what he considered to be backing off, he still improved his sector time.
Bianchi and van der Garde collected the wall at the start of the Catalunya race © LAT
While he may have had a point about his previous lap being far from the limit, he didn't give up the lap like so many others, so he didn't have much of a case when the stewards penalised him 10 places on the grid.
Having worked his way into the points in race one, he had a front row start for the Sunday event. However, his day was done within seconds of his fluffed start.
As he tried to recover, he moved to the outside of the start finish straight, where he clipped Giedo van der Garde's chasing Addax car. Thinking he had in fact hit the car in front of him, Bianchi continued to move left, resulting in more contact with the Dutchman and firing him into the wall. Van der Garde was livid, and a grid penalty awaited Bianchi at Monaco. It wasn't to be his only grave misjudgement on a race start in these early races.
Bianchi considers Monaco "the only race where I qualified where I should have" - he set the third fastest time in a crazy session and had no complaints. However, his grid penalty dropped him to eighth.
Another clash with van der Garde left his rival fuming once again in the first race, but this one wasn't actually Bianchi's fault. He had been battling hydraulic problems from the start, and as they exited the tunnel on the 11th lap his gearbox decided it didn't want to co-operate on downshifts for the chicane.
Van der Garde was unfortunate collateral as Bianchi desperately tried to avoid an accident. And with a DNF on the board in race one, the rest of the weekend was a write-off points wise.
Much like in Turkey, yellow and red flags didn't fall well for the man who was increasingly becoming the centre of attention for his surprisingly lowly championship position.
He shrugged off his grid position of ninth, confident that his practice-topping form and best sector times were proof of good pace. At this point, he refused to rule out a title comeback.
Bianchi collided with Ericsson in Valencia © LAT
But once again disaster struck just seconds after the lights went out, and Bianchi couldn't look anywhere else to apportion blame. Having chosen to go wide to the left on the run to the first corner, he then spotted a gap on the inside that he liked the look of.
The only problem was that in the time since he had last checked his right hand mirror, the empty space on his inside had been filled by Marcus Ericsson. The Swede was in Bianchi's blind spot as he darted back to the right, collecting the iSport car and sending them both into the wall.
The stewards took a dim view and penalised him, and Bianchi accepted responsibility. It was unfortunate in the sense that Ericsson was out of his line of sight, but it was slightly naive of the Frenchman to expect to have that much clear space just after the start of the race.
As the story above illustrates, misfortune and an occasional lack of quick thinking behind the wheel has cost Bianchi dearly this year. It's a far more complex story than him simply not having the speed or the raw ability to be a success.
To continue reading this feature, subscribe to Autosport Plus today.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
- Your Autosport Plus subscription includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from a monthly or yearly membership.