Jules Bianchi had been singled out as the man Ferrari wanted to eventually replace Kimi Raikkonen, its former chairman Luca di Montezemolo has revealed.
The Frenchman's career had been guided by Ferrari, who helped secure his Formula 1 debut with Marussia and, prior to his Japanese Grand Prix crash, planned to switch him to Sauber for this season.
But with Bianchi passing away on Friday as the result of serious head injuries he suffered in a crash at Suzuka last October, the F1 world never got to see just how his career would have panned out.
Di Montezemolo, who left Ferrari at the end of last year, has made clear that a future with the Maranello outfit was being lined up.
"Jules Bianchi was one of us," he told Sky Sports Italia. "He was a member of the Ferrari family and was the driver we had picked for the future – once the collaboration with Raikkonen was over.
"He was first class: private, fast, polite, very attached to Ferrari and promising."
He added: "A bitter fate has taken him away from us, leaving us with a huge void. I am close to his family, which in recent months has shown great courage in these difficult times, as well as his many friends at Ferrari. We lost a great guy, and we will remember him with great affection."
Bianchi felt ready
Only days before his crash in Japan, Bianchi said that he felt prepared for a move to Ferrari after his apprenticeship at Marussia, as the world speculated on potential Fernando Alonso replacements.
"Of course I feel ready," he said. "I have been working on that since I joined the [Ferrari young driver] Academy in 2009.
"Now I have done nearly two seasons in F1. I have good experience and feel ready for that.
"It looks like the logical step for me if something happens. At the moment both drivers have a contract, but if there is an opportunity it will be good for me and I feel good."