Briatore: Ferrari wasted a year with Raikkonen

No sooner has Bernie Ecclestone suggested that Flavio Briatore would make a good team boss at Ferrari, than the flamboyant Italian gives a taste of what things might be like at Maranello under his leadership.

The former Benetton and Renault team boss, who was subsequently banned from the sport for his role in the infamous Crash-gate saga, believes that Ferrari retained Kimi Raikkonen for too long, and essentially wasted the 2018 season. Indeed, he believes Charles Leclerc should have been promoted to the second race seat alongside Sebastian Vettel a year earlier.

“Leclerc is young, he has big balls, because he’s demonstrating that,” he tells the official F1 site in its Beyond the Grid podcast. “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,” he added, though the Finn remains the Maranello outfit’s most recent world champion. “You know at the time I would take the risk and put Leclerc in the car. Leclerc is a really, really strong guy.”

Despite being a “strong guy” however, Briatore feels that his lack of experience in a front-running team means he is still lagging behind the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

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

“I tell the dad,” he continues, referring to Jos Verstappen who drove for Benetton while Briatore was boss. “‘The name is the same but the driver is completely different. I wish I had this one in the car’, I tell the father, ‘Jesus Christ, I wish I had your son and not you’.”

Talking of Hamilton, as the Briton seeks to equal Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles, the first two of which were won with Briatore at the helm, the Italian feels that the two drivers achievements are not comparable because of the different ears in which they raced.

“Michael was fighting with the big guys, like Senna,” he said. “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,” he continued. “You have two… 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 gets close, he does a mistake, Fernando he does a mistake. Everybody does 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, Hamilton and Verstappen.”