Mexico, November 9: Felipe Massa has tipped Charles Leclerc to be crowned Formula One world champion before rival Max Verstappen.
The duo, both aged 22, are widely expected to achieve the feat one day and Massa – cruelly denied the title in dramatic circumstances in 2008 – backed Leclerc to get there first.
Lauding the Ferrari driver's coolness under pressure, Massa – who also raced for the Scuderia – has no doubt Leclerc will finish top of the pile in the future.
"He's a very talented guy, but the thing that strikes me most is his head and his ability to handle pressure," the Brazilian told Motorsport.com.
"I do not know whether he is faster or slower than Verstappen, but the seven pole positions in his first year of Ferrari say a lot.
"He made some mistakes, but I think we all have to consider his still limited experience in F1 and it was his first year in a top team.
"He is a future world champion and I think we will not have to wait long. I do not exclude that he can achieve that goal even before Verstappen."
Leclerc sits third and leads his Red Bull counterpart by 14 points this season with two races to go, each driver having won two grands prix in 2019.
Massa noted the added difficulties of representing the iconic Ferrari team, suggesting Leclerc had handed that issue "perfectly".
"You have to be ready in many respects," he said. "You must learn to handle the pressure of the media, the fans, and the one that you put on yourself when you realise that you drive for Ferrari.
"It is not a simple thing, and Charles has handled this aspect perfectly. He's a good guy and is more clever than he is given credit for."
Massa never won the F1 world championship but came closest 11 years ago, when he took victory in the final race of the season on home soil but watched on dejected as Lewis Hamilton claimed the minimum fifth-place finish he needed to top the standings.
It was the Briton's first title triumph and he has since added five more. If Leclerc and Verstappen were looking for omens, Hamilton was 23 at the time of his maiden victory.