Mark Webber has backed new Mercedes signing George Russell to be a match for Lewis Hamilton during the 2022 season.
Russell steps up from Williams to the Mercedes team this year, having put in three campaigns towards the rear of the F1 field.
But Webber believes that Russell's experience in the sport means he will quickly adapt to life at the front, pointing to Hamilton's instant form during his rookie season at McLaren in 2007 as proof that drivers don't always need time to raise their game.
"Going up against Lewis will be extremely challenging," Webber told Formel Austria. "But George has almost 50 races under his belt now, so he's ready for it.
"Lewis went straight to the front, which shows his calibre – only very special drivers can do that. 99 percent of the guys need a few races to get used to the idea of being up front."
Webber reckons the biggest task facing Russell in 2022 is mentally adjusting to the different expectations of driving a front-running car versus what he's been used to over the past three seasons.
"George is ready for it, but it's different than qualifying well in an underperforming car and doing well when there's little pressure," he said.
"George will know there will be a huge shift in intensity that comes with the expectation of qualifying for the front row every week and finishing every race in the top spots."
Keeping an eye on Alonso
Webber also took the opportunity to single out Fernando Alonso for praise, as the Spaniard becomes the oldest driver in Formula 1 in 2022 in the wake of Kimi Raikkonen's retirement.
Webber and Alonso formed a close friendship during the Australian's time in F1, with Webber never hiding his admiration for his former racing rival.
After two seasons out, Alonso returned to the sport - and the podium - last year, and Webber views him as a dark horse for '22.
"Fernando drives well; the guy's still a bit of a magician," he commented.
"He's the last guy you want hanging around in front of you or behind you in the mirror for two hours. He's extremely good at applying pressure in unconventional ways.
"He's still very, very good. Let's see how next year goes with the new car; it will be interesting. If Alpine brings a rocket, he could be dangerous."
F1 Podcast: Why F1 2022 could be the most exciting season ever
With huge changes being made to the F1 rule book for 2022, our journalists Dieter Rencken, Mike Seymour and Thomas Maher look ahead to the new season.