Charles Leclerc set for tough Japanese Grand Prix debut with memory of Jules Bianchi's death

SUZUKA, Japan — Charles Leclerc admits that this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix will be “very difficult” and full of emotion, given the fatal crash in 2014 that killed his godfather Jules Bianchi.

Four years ago, Bianchi aquaplaned into a recovery vehicle on lap 41 of the race, where he sustained a head injury that led to him passing away nine months later. The pair had enjoyed a special bond before Bianchi’s death, with the Frenchman playing a mentor role for a young up-and-coming Leclerc.

The soon-to-be Ferrari driver said he’s been overcome with emotion ever since touching down in Japan.

“It’s obviously a very difficult weekend,” Leclerc said on Thursday. “Jules has helped me massively to arrive here, more than only on the racing side. He was a big part of the family. I never came to Japan before; the track walk this morning was quite emotional.”

Leclerc added that he is already planning a special tribute for next year’s race in Japan.

“I’m definitely thinking about something for next year, about a helmet, but you know there is this rule where you can only run one special helmet. This year I did it for my father. Next year I have an idea of doing something, a helmet split on both sides — one for Jules, one for my father.

“For this year, I will have nothing more special than trying to make him remembered as much as I can to the public.”