Ferrari saw Bianchi as Raikkonen replacement

Mon Jul 20, 2015 6:33am EDT
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By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Jules Bianchi was being lined up by Ferrari as the man to replace Kimi Raikkonen before the Frenchman's crash in Japan last October, according to the team's former chairman Luca di Montezemolo.

Bianchi, 25, who died in hospital in Nice on Friday nine months after his shocking accident and without regaining consciousness, had come through Ferrari's driver academy and maintained close ties with Maranello.

His funeral will be in Nice's Sainte Reparate Cathedral on Tuesday.

"Jules was one of us," Montezemolo told Sky Sports Italia. "He was part of the Ferrari family and the driver we had chosen for the future, once the collaboration with Raikkonen was finished."

Raikkonen, the Finn who won the 2007 world championship with Ferrari, returned to the Italian team for the 2014 season on a two-year contract that expires at the end of this year.

Former Ferrari principal Stefano Domenicali confirmed separately to Sky that the team had big plans for Bianchi, who joined Ferrari's academy in 2009 and was a test driver for the team.

"Jules was always at Maranello," said the Italian. "Every day he came to the factory to grow and nurture his dream of driving for Ferrari.

"Our idea was that, after Marussia, he should go to another team to grow and be ready for the big leap. That is what we planned some years ago. But unfortunately fate took him away."   Continued...

Jules Bianchi  looks on before the third practice session of the Monaco F1 Grand Prix May 25, 2013. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier