Charles Leclerc has set his sights on winning the Formula 1 championships he believes his late friend and mentor Jules Bianchi deserved to win, should he make the move up to Ferrari in the future.

Following an impressive rookie season that has seen him score points in five of the last seven races, current Sauber driver Leclerc has been linked strongly with a move up to Ferrari for the 2019 season, having been part of the Italian marque's driver academy for over three years.

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Leclerc enjoyed a close friendship with Jules Bianchi, who was the leading star of Ferrari's driver academy prior to his death in July 2015, nine months after sustaining severe head injuries in an accident at the Japanese Grand Prix. Bianchi was tipped to ultimately replace Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari.

In an exclusive interview with Crash.net, Leclerc explained how Bianchi had played a crucial role in developing his love for racing as a child, kick-starting his motorsport career.

"He was extremely important. My father and his father were best friends, and our families are extremely close," Leclerc said.

"I drove for the first time karting on his track, and he was there. Then I think we were meeting up every Wednesday and on weekends just to drive rental karting. These are probably the best memories I have in racing. It was so much fun, and so much learned also.

"He was older than me, so you always push yourself to beat him. They are very good memories. But he was more than a mentor. He was also an extremely close friend, a bit like family."

Asked if racing for Ferrari in F1 would be a good way to honour Bianchi, Leclerc said: "Yes, definitely. He will have probably deserved this place more than I do.

"If one day I have the chance to be there, I will try to do everything I possibly can to win the titles that he deserved to win."

Were Leclerc to move up to Ferrari for 2019, he would partner four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who said on Thursday he saw no need for the Monegasque driver to rush his path to a top seat.

"I think Charles, one way or the other, will have a great career. He is a great guy, he’s fast, he’s got everything," Vettel said.

"He has no need to rush.  He’s young, but when you are young you are always in a rush with everything! I don’t know when or what and ultimately who [my teammate will be], but it doesn’t really matter to me.

“For me it’s clear where I am next year. I think both of them [Leclerc or Raikkonen] would suit the team.”

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