Former Ferrari driver Eddie Irvine says the Scuderia's current rising star Charles Leclerc is a "much, much better" driver than his anticipated rival for many years to come Max Verstappen.
Title wins in GP3 and Formula 2, followed by a debut season in Formula 1 which prompted a swift promotion to Ferrari has seen Leclerc's star rise almost as quick as Verstappen's did after the Dutchman became F1's youngest race-winner just over a year on from setting a record as the youngest grand prix driver.
Rivals in karting, the pair have come head-to-head on occasion this year too, with Verstappen barging past Leclerc to win in Austria after the pole-sitting Ferrari had led much of the race.
The pair have two wins each this year, but Leclerc has a championship-best six pole positions in his first campaign in a top team, while Verstappen's qualifying victory in Hungary this year was the first of a career now in its fifth campaign on the grid.
And Irvine, who partnered Michael Schumacher in the red car between 1996 and 1999, has no doubt as to who is the better performer.
"There is no argument, Leclerc is much, much better," Irvine told La Gazzetta dello Sport prior to the Suzuka race.
"He has four poles this year [four since the summer break, six in total] and he does not even have the best car in F1, sorry Ferrari.
"While Verstappen continues to make many stupid mistakes despite having been in F1 for years, many more than Leclerc, Charles looks to be very focused and someone who doesn't make mistakes.
"He could have won more than two races and he doesn't have the best car. This tells you a lot.
"And then in Monza what he did racing against [Lewis] Hamilton was crazy, maybe not 100 per cent legal but amazing to watch.
"He's very clever, intelligent and very good. Much better than Verstappen for me there is no discussion."
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