Charles Leclerc is confident he and title rival Max Verstappen have “matured a lot” since the pair’s infamous karting rivalry.
The duo widely regarded as the two Formula 1 driver’s championship protagonists of 2022 have opened up on their former battles in karting, where they often fought it out for race victories on their way to climbing the motorsport ranks through multiple junior categories.
Red Bull’s Verstappen says that it is “really nice” that not only Leclerc, but other similarly-aged young talents have made their way into F1, and several into “top teams” like Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes.
The likes of George Russell, Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris, Alex Albon, Mick Schumacher and Lance Stroll are all of similar age, and graduated the lower formulae on a similar trajectory – often crossing each other’s paths in more ways than one.
The reigning driver’s champion was asked about his memories of his karting days, particularly what he remembers of Leclerc, and how it is to be rivals once again but in the very different F1 championship. “It’s good. I mean, we basically grew up, through go-karting from, I think, 12 years old,” said Verstappen.
“And of course, we were very similar in age. So, we already had, of course, a lot of go-karting battles, but also, we made our way through Formula 1 and not only the two of us, a lot of drivers we know including of course George [Russell], Carlos [Sainz], we already saw each other at the go-karting tracks, and now we’re all here in F1, basically fighting with top teams.
“And yeah, it’s really nice to see that and I hope, of course, it can continue for a long time.” Leclerc however believes the circumstances now are “very different” to the past, pointing to their respective maturity as the single biggest change. The Monegasque also reveals that the idea of reaching Formula 1 at all was far beyond what looked realistically possible, which he feels has meant the pair have earned each other’s respect somewhat.
“I think it’s a very different situation,” said Leclerc. “We have matured a lot, we are much older even though we are still 25 years old, which is still quite young, but at this time there were episodes which make us hate each other. I’m pretty sure, in some occasions, but then you grow up.
“Obviously, we’ve both achieved one of our dreams, which was to arrive in Formula 1. And at that time, it was just a dream. Everything looked impossible so it’s great now to be fighting in Formula 1, and there’s a lot of respect for each other. So yes, it has changed for sure.”
Verstappen, who tails the Ferrari driver by 27 points in the driver’s standings ahead of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, agrees in part with Leclerc and picks out the championship leader’s remark on maturity.
“Like Charles said, I mean, we’ve matured a lot!” joked Verstappen. “And we’re both in Formula 1 where we are at two top teams and are fighting for race wins. What happened in go-karting, you can laugh about it now. Yeah, good times!”
Leclerc and Verstappen are all set to go head-to-head again in Miami this weekend, on the brand new custom-built Miami International Autodrome in the grounds of the Hard Rock NFL Stadium. Their long-lasting rivalry will continue for the remainder of the season, and while it has been clean and without incident in the first four rounds of the year, the past “hate” for each other could very easily rear its head again if the standings remain as close as they are set to be.
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