Charles Leclerc is a "clearly better" driver than Sebastian Vettel this season and Ferrari should have got tough with the four-time world champion at the Russian Grand Prix, according to Eddie Irvine.
Irvine drove for Ferrari in four of his 10 seasons in Formula One and is confident his old team have found a star in Leclerc.
He believes the Monegasque driver is a step above Vettel based on how the 2019 season has panned out.
Irvine also feels the Italian team should have taken a firm stance with Vettel, world champion each year from 2010 to 2013, when he refused to give back Leclerc the lead in a row over strategy in Russia last time out.
Pole-sitter Leclerc had allowed Vettel to use his slipstream from third on the grid to take the lead and ensure Ferrari held the top two positions after the start in Sochi, but the German then remained in front as his younger team-mate appealed to be given the place back.
"Leclerc is clearly the better driver and you can all see that," Irvine told Omnisport. "Ferrari at the moment haven't got the luxury and pace to be able to split points between the two drivers. In Russia there was an agreement which Vettel tried to wiggle out of.
"If I were Ferrari I would have been harsher, I would have been more firm on that. If you take Ferrari’s money you follow Ferrari’s orders. I also understand it is a four-time world champion and a young guy, albeit one who seems to be amazing, but there was an agreement and Vettel did not honor that agreement. I don't know how you do that. This let them lose the race."
Irvine, now 53, knew there was always a clear distinction at the team when Michael Schumacher was the dominant number one in his era.
"The roles were very clear at Ferrari," he said of his time partnering the seven-time world champion. "I was the driver who had to be fast and Michael was to be the best driver in the world.
"If Jean Alesi or Gerhard Berger were there I could have surely had the chance to beat them, but Michael was in another world."
Ferrari look like they are up against it at the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend, with Mercedes bringing upgrades to a circuit where they can secure a sixth consecutive constructors' championship.
Irvine prefers the old-school circuits, where driver mistakes are still properly punished.
He added: "In Suzuka, you make a mistake and you pay a price. Today if you go off the circuit you can come back on and you don't even lose positions. If you see Leclerc in Monza, he drove an amazing race but made two mistakes.
"However, he was still leading the race. Back in the day, if you went off that was it. The race was over."