Charles Leclerc’s touching tribute to ‘gamechanger’ Jules Bianchi with special Japanese GP helmet

Oliver Harden
Charles Leclerc sports his Jules Bianchi tribute helmet at Suzuka with a prominent Ferrari logo alongside him

Charles Leclerc sports his Jules Bianchi tribute helmet in the Ferrari garage at Suzuka

Charles Leclerc has hailed Jules Bianchi as a “gamechanger” for his F1 career after running a tribute helmet to his late godfather at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Bianchi died in July 2015 from injuries sustained in a serious accident in the 2014 Japanese GP, when his car struck a recovery vehicle after spinning off the track in wet conditions.

Charles Leclerc: Jules Bianchi ‘needs to be remembered’

The Marussia driver was a close family friend of Leclerc, seven years his junior, and acted as a mentor in the early years of the Ferrari star’s racing career.

With this October marking a decade since the accident, Leclerc unveiled a tribute helmet design – featuring Bianchi’s No. 17, which was retired by the FIA in the aftermath of his death – ahead of F1’s return to Suzuka this weekend.

Speaking in Japan, Leclerc praised Bianchi’s influence on his own career and revealed he had sought the blessing of Bianchi’s family before going ahead with his plans for a tribute helmet.

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He said: “It’s a very special place and whenever I get here I have Jules in my mind.

“I obviously think about Jules very often, because he was the person that helped me to get here.

“Back in 2010 already, he had spoken to Nicholas [Todt], my manager, in order for me to be supported to get to Formula 1 and he’s been the gamechanger in my career.

“Before that we were always extremely, extremely close and both of our families are still always very close.

“So it’s a very special place to be here.

“Of course, as always, he’s always in my heart and it’s going to be very important to do well this weekend.

“Once you put on the helmet, obviously I’ve got to think about whatever is going on on the track, but obviously it was a very important sign for me to do here.

“I had spoken with the family. We are always in contact and we always speak because it’s basically the same family.

“We’ve always been extremely close and they were so, so happy that I had asked to use the helmet, so I’m really happy.

“Obviously, Jules is still there and needs to be remembered. If I’m here today in Formula 1, it’s thanks to him.

“So it was important for me to wear this helmet and I hope I can have a great weekend.”

Leclerc was classified sixth and third respectively across the two opening practice sessions in Japan on Friday, with Ferrari once again poised to emerge as Red Bull’s biggest threat this weekend.

Asked if he can pull off a surprise to claim a first pole position of the 2024 season, Leclerc said: “I’ll do my best. This is the target, for sure.

“But in order to do so we need to make sure that we are prepared in the best possible way for tomorrow and at the moment I still feel like we are lacking a little bit of pace to go and challenge for pole position because Red Bull seem strong, and especially Max [Verstappen] now.

“So still quite a bit of work to do, but if there’s a special lap to be done I hope I’ll be the one to do it.”

Asked if he had gained enough data from a rain-interrupted FP2 session, he added: “No, because there’s still plenty to learn and we’ve still got quite a lot of things to try, but we’ve [still] got FP3.

“Hopefully tomorrow if there’s no rain and there we’ll be able to test the things that are still on hold, because one FP1 is quite [insufficient] especially because you do only the first run and then the track is very green.

“It’s very slippery, so you cannot really learn anything from that first run and then you go on to soft, but we only had one or two laps, so very little running and still a lot of questions to answer and things to fix before qualifying.”

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