Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen’s time together at Ferrari should have ended earlier. That’s the verdict of former F1 team chief Flavio Briatore, who’s taken a swipe at the Finn while hailing Charles Leclerc.
Vettel has been the main man at Ferrari since 2015, when he filled the seat the departed Fernando Alonso had vacated.
The German, though, failed to replicate his World Drivers’ Championship-winning form during his first four seasons with F1’s most illustrious team.
It was not until his fifth season, however, that Vettel reached his lowest point since leaving Red Bull, where he won his four F1 titles.
Vettel was outshone by Leclerc who, having swapped teams with Raikkonen the previous winter, ended the 2019 campaign a place above his Ferrari team-mate in the final drivers’ standings.
Ferrari have since rewarded Leclerc with a five-year contract extension to show they’re placing their faith in him going forward.
Vettel, meanwhile, has been left to wait on a new deal, despite team principal Mattia Binotto insisting tying him down is a priority.
Briatore, who enjoyed immense success with Benetton and Renault during his career in F1, has now offered his verdict on Ferrari’s recent driver line-ups.
He’s claimed Ferrari made a mistake by sticking with Raikkonen and not promoting Leclerc from Sauber sooner.
“Leclerc is young, big balls, because he demonstrated it,” Briatore said, while appearing on F1’s Beyond the Grid podcast.
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“I believe if I was at Ferrari I’d put Leclerc already two years ago to replace Raikkonen because, you know, with Raikonnen, you go nowhere. You never win [anything] with him.
“At the time I [would have taken] the risk to put [in] Leclerc. Leclerc is a really, really strong guy.”
Briatore’s outlandish character made the Italian a divisive figure during his days in F1.
Former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone believes, though, that Ferrari could do with a leader like him right now.
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Ecclestone said: “They need someone in there who can make people understand that when you say something it happens. Not maybe. Or a discussion.
“I would have got Flavio Briatore to run Ferrari. Flavio would do what he always did with Benetton and Renault: he’d steal the best people from other teams.
“The problem is that in the end Flavio would have let people think Ferrari belonged to him.”
Vettel, Leclerc and Ferrari now face a wait until at least June to begin the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen the first eight Grands Prix of the year called off.
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