Briatore: Ferrari should have chosen Leclerc over Raikkonen in 2018

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Ferrari should have taken the risk of replacing Kimi Raikkonen with Charles Leclerc back in 2018, Flavio Briatore believes.

The Monegasque burst onto the scene by winning both the GP3 and Formula 2 titles at the first attempt in consecutive years in 2016 and 2017, doing so as part of the Scuderia's young driver Academy.

Leclerc would then make his F1 debut at Sauber the following year, with his impressive performances there leading former Ferrari chairman Sergio Marchionne to put his faith in the then 21-year-old by picking him over Raikkonen for the second seat at the Italian team in 2019.

But while that decision in itself was considered bold for Ferrari, who have always opted for established drivers over young potential, Briatore thinks they were still conservative.

“Leclerc is young,” he said on Formula 1's Beyond the Grid podcast. “[He has] big balls because he’s demonstrating [that].

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“But 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 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.”

Indeed, Charles was quick to vindicate Marchionne's decision by matching teammate Sebastian Vettel pretty much from the start before going on to claim seven poles, two wins and finish ahead of the German in the Drivers' Championship.

Yet despite the man from Monte Carlo's big impact, Briatore doesn't yet put him in the same breath as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

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

At the same time, however, he has mixed it with the two drivers widely considered as the best on the grid, notably with Verstappen at Silverstone and Hamilton at Monza.

"I have this killer instinct," Leclerc told "I've always been like that.

"Whenever I am in the car, I do my best. Every time I get into a car, I don't want to be second, third, fourth or fifth. I don't care, I just want to win.

"Some mistakes I made last year are part of this mentality," he acknowledged. "I gave everything at moments when I could just have taken the points.

"Not everyone will like me for it, but that's how I am and I can still learn. This mentality also has positive aspects, but it can also hurt in other moments.

"I have to understand and control this mentality at precisely these moments. I'm pretty sure that this will come with experience."