SET TO JOIN FERRARI: Jules Bianchi waves to fans before his horrific crash at the 2014 Japanese GP. Bianchi was set to join Ferrari in the near future, former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo revealed. Image: AP/ Shizuo Kambayashi
LONDON, England - Jules Bianchi was being lined-up by Ferrari as the man to replace Kimi Raikkonen before his crash in Japan in October 2014, according to the team's former chairman Luca di Montezemolo.
Bianchi, 25, who died in hospital in Nice on Friday (July 17) 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 (July 21 2015).
'ONE OF US'
Montezemolo told Sky Sports Italia: "Jules was one of us. He was part of the Ferrari family and the driver we had chosen for the future, once the collaboration with Raikkonen was finished."
Raikkonen, 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 2015.
Former Ferrari principal Stefano Domenicali confirmed separately to Sky that the team had had big plans for Bianchi, who joined Ferrari's academy in 2009 and was a test driver for the team.
Read: #RIPJules - F1 drivers react to Bianchi death
Domenicali said: "Jules was always at Maranello. "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."
Bianchi had made his F1 debut with Ferrari-powered Marussia in 2013, scoring that team's first and to date only points in Monaco in 2014 when he finished ninth.
He had been tipped for a move to Ferrari-powered Sauber, the team that also served as a springboard to Ferrari for Brazilian Felipe Massa, this year as part of his career development.
Only days before his crash at Suzuka, Bianchi had spoken about his readiness to race for Ferrari.
Montezemolo said: "He was a first class lad, private, quick, polite, extremely devoted to Ferrari and with a sure future.
"A bitter destiny has carried him away, leaving us with a huge emptiness."
Scuderia Ferrari tweeted on July 18:
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