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Leclerc opens up on Bianchi tribute helmet as he says former Ferrari protégé ‘needs to be remembered’

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Charles Leclerc has said it was “so important” for him to pay tribute to Jules Bianchi at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix after revealing a special helmet design in honour of the late Frenchman.

Bianchi, who was Leclerc’s godfather and helped him during his karting days, passed away in August 2015, several months on from injuries sustained in a crash during the 2014 race at Suzuka.

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With this year’s event marking the 10th year since the accident, Leclerc is running a helmet mirroring the former Ferrari protégé and Marussia racer’s design, along with his number 17 logo.

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Speaking about the tribute after Friday practice, Leclerc said: “Once you put the helmet [on], I’ve got to think of whatever’s going on on the track, but obviously it was a very important sign for me to do here.

“I had spoken to the family, we’re always in contact and always speak because it’s basically the same family, and we’ve always been extremely close. They were so, so happy that I had asked to use the helmet.

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“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.”

‘Jules needs to be remembered’ – Leclerc on his Bianchi tribute helmet design

As for his chances of having a great weekend and “pulling off a surprise” in qualifying, Leclerc, who was sixth fastest in Friday’s dry first practice session, 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’re lacking a little bit of pace to go and challenge for pole position.

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from second practice for the Japanese Grand Prix

“Red Bull seem strong and especially Max [Verstappen] up until now, so [there’s] 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.”

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