Ferrari wasted a year 'going nowhere' with Kimi Raikkonen and should have promoted Charles Leclerc earlier, reckons former Formula 1 title winning team boss Flavio Briatore.
While Leclerc proved himself to be one of F1's top stars last year after getting the call-up at Ferrari, Briatore thinks the Italian outfit should have moved earlier to give the Monegasque youngster more top line experience.
Instead, when Ferrari had the chance to put Leclerc in its car for his rookie season rather than going to Sauber, it stuck with veteran Raikkonen instead.
Speaking to F1's Beyond the Grid podcast about the current crop of drivers in F1, 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 [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."
Briatore thinks Leclerc's lack of experience in a top car means he is not yet one of the sport's true superstars, with him convinced Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are a step above the rest of the field.
"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."
And while Hamilton in one title away from matching Michael Schumacher's record seven crowns, Briatore thinks their achievements are not directly comparable.
"Michael was fighting with the big guys: like [Ayrton] Senna. 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."
Briatore said the true test of any driver is when they are put under pressure by a rival
"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."