Former Renault F1 boss Flavio Briatore has criticised Ferrari for waiting until 2019 to replace Kimi Raikkonen with Charles Leclerc.
Leclerc joined the Formula 1 grid in 2018 with Sauber having won the GP3 and F2 titles back-to-back as part of the Ferrari Driver Academy.
After that one season in the sport he was promoted to a Ferrari seat for 2019, an unusual move for the team who previously favoured experienced drivers.
He took the place of veteran racer and 2007 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, making a quick impact by scoring more points, poles and wins than his team-mate, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.
And Briatore doesn’t understand why Leclerc wasn’t promoted “two years ago”, believing the team were going “nowhere” with Raikkonen.
Speaking as part of F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast, he 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 [anything] 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.”
Both Leclerc and Max Verstappen are touted as the most likely challengers to Lewis Hamilton’s dominance of Formula 1.
But Briatore doesn’t think Leclerc is at Verstappen’s level yet as a “recognisable” F1 superstar.
“Leclerc is not recognisable now,” said Briatore.
“Verstappen for me is the more incredible driver. He is fantastic in the way he is overtaking, the way he is a gladiator.”