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16206/22/2018 14:18
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French Grand Prix: Charles Leclerc fueled by memory of Jules Bianchi
French Grand Prix: Charles Leclerc fueled by memory of Jules Bianchi

The return of the French Grand Prix after a 10-year absence will be an emotional occasion for all involved, especially so for young starlet Charles Leclerc

The 20-year-old Sauber driver will take to the track aiming to score points for himself, his team and also for the memory of his close friend and mentor Jules Bianchi

Bianchi, who was tragically killed at the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014, never got the chance to compete in an F1 grand prix in his homeland, and now his father Philippe is looking forward to seeing Leclerc carry the memory of his son onto the Circuit Paul Ricard this weekend.

"It's a beautiful thing to see Charles racing," Bianchi senior told CNN.

'I wanted to same for Jules and now every time someone speaks about Charles they remember Jules because they were so close."

READ: How the rich and famous watch the Monaco Grand Prix

For Monaco-born Leclerc, it will be familiar territory. As boys, he and Bianchi used to race around Philippe's go-kart track, just 15km from Circuit Paul Ricard.

Philippe is hoping that connection with the track and the spirit of Jules could prove to be an advantage for Sauber driver Leclerc.

"The return of the French GP is a very beautiful thing," he explains.

"For Charles it's good to have another type of home race. He's from Monaco, but the French is very similar for him.

"I still speak with Charles and he knows that when he needs me he can still phone me no problem.

"Charles tells me that every time he has problems and pressure, he speaks every time with Jules, because he was like a big brother for Charles.

"He will do what Jules used to say, that when you start the race you push, you push, you push and you see at the end of the race where you are. And that's a good strategy.

"Charles for me is the same kind of driver as Jules. He makes the same moves and his character is the same."

Leclerc goes into the French GP sitting 14th in the drivers' championship with 10 points from the opening seven races, and his eye-catching form with a modest Sauber car have seen him tipped for a possible move to Ferrari -- just as Bianchi was before his life was tragically cut short.

The similarity has obviously not gone unnoticed with Philippe, who believes Leclerc has what it takes to make the step up, but advised the youngster to avoid rushing and bide his time before making a life-changing move.

"Of course he can race for Ferrari," Bianchi said.

"It will be difficult for Charles to drive for Ferrari next year, but when you go there you have a lot of pressure. When your clothes are red it's not easy!

"Perhaps he needs one more year at Sauber, but sure, after that Ferrari may take Charles."

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