Charles Leclerc says he never considered quitting motorsport following Jules Bianchi’s horrific crash during the 2014 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix.

Bianchi, who was Leclerc’s godfather and mentor, suffered severe head injuries after crashing in wet conditions at Suzuka and died nine months later aged 25.

The Marussia driver, like Leclerc, had risen through the junior ranks as a Ferrari Driver Academy member and had been tipped for a successful future at the Maranello squad. Having triumphed to back-to-back titles in GP3 and Formula 2, Leclerc was handed his F1 debut in 2018 with Sauber.

An impressive rookie campaign earned him promotion to Ferrari for the 2019 season, and Leclerc, who has had to deal with two personal tragedies following the sudden death of his father Herve in 2017, says he has always been motivated to honour Bianchi’s memory.

"There was definitely no thoughts any time to stop my career because of that,” Leclerc told BBC Sport in an exclusive interview. "From the beginning when you go into this sport, you know how dangerous it is. It will never be a safe sport. 

"Of course, the cars are getting safer and safer but, when you are going at 340km/h, it can never be safe. This I knew from the start. And I just wanted then to be good for him because he had taught me many things.

"He had always pushed me forward and helped me to get better, and the only thought I had when this happened was just to do good for him to make him proud."

Leclerc twice came close to claiming his maiden grand prix victory in Bahrain and Austria, until late engine trouble (Bahrain) and a charge from Max Verstappen (Austria) denied him top spot on the rostrum.

He was left disappointed that a crash in qualifying in Baku denied him the chance to fight for pole position, and for a scrappy home race in Monaco as he attempted to fight his way through the field after a qualifying strategy blunder had left him out of position on the grid.

But after taking four successive podiums, Leclerc now sits just three points behind fourth-placed Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel in the 2019 drivers’ standings. The 21-year-old has credited his ability to turnaround his form due to mental training he has been doing since the early stages of his career.

"It is always very difficult to put into words because it is not like physical training, where you lift weights and you can definitely see the difference where you are lifting more weight week after week," he explained.

"It is a little bit the same process. But the results, you don't see them as easily because it is about how you are feeling and how you are dealing with pressure. So it comes a lot more naturally.

"But I have a lot of tests to see more the results of it. And it is all about concentration, being calm in the tense moments, which is very important, being able to calm yourself as quickly as possible.

"F1 weekends are full of things and any time that you have five minutes, you need to use it as well as possible to calm down. So all of these small details make a small difference in the end."

“Hopefully the first win to come very soon," he added. "And many more after. But at the end the target is the first win now, trying to take the opportunity whenever we have it.

"In the future... my dream as a child was being a world champion. Now I am finally in a team where I think this can be a reality so we need to keep working and hopefully this will happen one day."