Leclerc’s comments came in response to a blog last week from Daniel Ricciardo, where the Renault driver named his five most underrated opponents.
Alongside Marcus Ericsson, Tonio Liuzzi, Roberto Merhi and, perhaps surprisingly, Jenson Button, was the name of Bianchi.
Ricciardo wrote that he first came across Bianchi during training at Formula Medicine in Viareggio, Italy, citing the fact that even though the drivers there were all only 17 at the time, “everyone treated him [Bianchi] like an F1 driver already”.
The 30-year-old claims that “as a junior through karting, Jules was the guy”. It was at 17 that Bianchi joined Nicolas Todt’s management stable, before three years later becoming the first member of the Ferrari Driver Academy.
After a season as reserve driver with Ferrari, he became test driver for Force India, and then joined back-of-the-grid Marussia in 2013 to gain experience in Formula 1. It appeared only a matter of time before Bianchi would eventually take up a race seat with the Scuderia.
The Frenchman’s stunning performance in the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix, in which he hauled an uncompetitive car into ninth to give the team what proved to be its only points in four seasons of struggle before it went into administration, will long be remembered.
Five months later, Bianchi was involved in the crash that ultimately claimed his life in July 2015, as he succumbed to the injuries he had sustained, aged just 25.
Drawing on Bianchi’s history, Ricciardo said: “It wasn’t like Jules was underrated, but we never got to see him in a top car, so maybe people didn’t appreciate how good he was going to be.
“You think of his drive in that Marussia in Monaco in 2014, the team’s first points… Monaco is like Macau in that there’s no way to fluke a result there. It was absolutely on merit.
“It’s another part of what makes his story so sad because he would have been in a top team and a race winner by now for sure.
“In some ways, I feel Charles is doing now what Jules would have been doing. It’s like Charles is the delayed version of what Jules would have done with the success he’s having.”