Eddie Irvine reckons Ferrari's Charles Leclerc is set for title victory this year, believing the Monegasque to be a stronger driver than reigning World Champion Max Verstappen.
Irvine, who raced for Ferrari between 1996 and 1999 alongside Michael Schumacher, and finished second in the 1999 Drivers' Championship, said that Verstappen's aggressive nature means he simply makes too many errors of judgement.
The Northern Irishman spoke about the brewing title fight between Leclerc and Verstappen, and backed the young Ferrari driver to win out against his illustrious rival – even if Verstappen is still the quicker of the two.
"I don't believe anyone is faster than Verstappen, but he still makes a lot of mistakes. Leclerc doesn't do that," Irvine told Italian publication La Gazzetto dello Sport.
Pointed out to him that Leclerc has made numerous high-profile mistakes, such as crashing during qualifying for the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix, Irvine said he's referring more to errors of when to use aggression, rather than a driving mistake.
"Having such an incident in qualifying is generally not so relevant," he explained.
"Verstappen makes the mistake of always letting himself be carried away in terms of aggressiveness."
Why Irvine believes Leclerc is the superior driver
Irvine, who retired from Formula 1 at the end of the 2002 season after three years with the Jaguar team, explained why he believes Leclerc is a superior talent to Verstappen.
"[Leclerc] is very intelligent, has a personality, and is mature," Irvine commented.
"[In] that way Verstappen seems a bit 'younger' to me mentally, but he has been given a lot of talent.
"Leclerc and Verstappen are both very strong. [Lewis] Hamilton is also exceptional, even though I don't think he has the same speed as Verstappen.
"Max reminds me of [Michael] Schumacher. He can keep a great race pace and no one who is driving in the same car comes near him."
While Leclerc is in a strong position after three races of the season, Irvine thinks it's too early to judge whether Ferrari can maintain a championship challenge over such a long year.
"It's too early to say and every year that goes by it gets more difficult," he said.
"You have to compete against Red Bull, Verstappen, and Adrian Newey. That is very difficult."
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Irvine: Hamilton deserved the title in 2021
The title fight between Verstappen and Hamilton became increasingly acrimonious throughout the 2021 season, including high-profile collisions at Silverstone and Monza before contentious races in Brazil and Saudi Arabia.
According to Irvine, it was obvious Hamilton was trying to race with more caution than the Dutch driver, until Verstappen pushed it too far.
"I think Lewis Hamilton drove all year last year in such a way that he could avoid accidents," he commented.
"At one point he thought, 'OK, now it's enough. Now you can have it.'"
Irvine revealed he'd been backing Hamilton for the championship victory: "That almost cost Verstappen the title, because Lewis destroyed Verstappen in Abu Dhabi.
"It's a shame he didn't win because he deserved it. He should have stopped him."
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