Ferrari wasted time with Kimi Raikkonen and should have taken a “risk” by promoting Charles Leclerc two years ago, according to ex-Formula 1 winning team boss Flavio Briatore.

Leclerc turned in a stellar first campaign with Ferrari last year and claimed two victories on his way to outperforming four-time world champion teammate Sebastian Vettel at the first attempt.

Ferrari had the option to promote its protege Leclerc straight after he had won back-to-back GP3 and Formula 2 titles in 2018, but instead chose to retain Raikkonen’s deal by a further year so that Leclerc could make his F1 debut with Sauber.

But Briatore, who oversaw title-winning campaigns at Benetton and Renault, feels Ferrari ended up wasting a year by “going nowhere” with Raikkonen.

Speaking to the official Formula 1 podcast, Beyond the Grid, Briatore said: ”Leclerc is young. [He has] big balls, because he's demonstrating [that].

"I believe if I was at Ferrari, I would have put Leclerc already two years ago to replace Raikkonen, because, you know, with Raikkonen you are going nowhere.

"You'll never win nothing with him. You know at the time I would take the risk and put Leclerc [in the car]. Leclerc is a really, really strong guy.”

Briatore also believes that reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton has had it too easy in recent seasons due to a lack of challengers, unlike Michael Schumacher, who the Briton could move level with on seven world championships as early as this year.

"Michael was fighting with the big guys: like [Ayrton] Senna,” Briatore explained. “You need to recognise that when Michael arrived, the [competition] was tough: you are talking about Nigel Mansell, you are talking about Senna.

"Now, is less, the competition. You have two drivers, three drivers....the competition is less than before. For Hamilton, again, nobody put the pressure on to him - he can walk away.”

"It is the same for everybody. When Schumacher, somebody get close, he put a mistake, Fernando [Alonso] he put a mistake. Everybody put the mistake.

“If he's driving like a taxi driver and is winning everything it's because he's a super driver, it's fantastic. Hamilton is one of two star drivers in F1: it's Hamilton and Verstappen.

"Leclerc is not recognisable now," Briatore added. ”Verstappen for me is the more incredible driver. He is fantastic in the way he is overtaking, the way he is a gladiator.”

 

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