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Leclerc on Verstappen: I hated him as much as he hated me

On the eve of the first-ever Miami Grand Prix, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc discusses his rivalry with Max Verstappen

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Ferrari Formula 1 star Charles Leclerc opens up about his ongoing rivalry with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, stating that he treats each opponent he faces differently.

Leclerc currently leads the 2022 F1 Drivers’ Championship despite having a weekend to forget at the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. His main title rival Verstappen on the other hand had a perfect weekend claiming wins at the Sprint and Grand Prix, and claiming the fastest lap of the race in the process.

On the eve of the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, Leclerc discusses his rivalry with the Dutchman, an ongoing feud that harks back to their karting days.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in action during the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix sprint race REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini

“I hated him as much as he hated me at that time, but now we are grown up we are a lot more mature, we respect each other and we have both achieved a dream to be driving in F1,” Leclerc told ESPN.

“In karting, we were there for the win, but we were also very young and we took things in a different way with a lot of anger, I remember.

“There is a lot of mutual respect, which is great to see. I’m pretty sure that when there are only five races left to the end [of the year] if we are still in the position we are in now fighting for the championship, things will get more tense, but that’s the way it is and that’s how racing is. That’s why I love this sport so much, so we will see.”

On the mistake in Imola

Leclerc also opened up about his error at Imola, where the Monegasque driver spun out at the Variante Alta chicane while chasing down Red Bull’s Sergio Perez for second place.

“I think on that particular lap I saw an opportunity,” Lerclerc explained.

“Throughout the race I had been very honest with myself and I thought Red Bull was too quick for us. Third place was the place we deserved through the weekend because we just weren’t as quick as Red Bull.

“But on that particular lap my mindset changed and I saw the opportunity to go for second, and I took more risk than I should have done instead of just taking the third place home.

“Again, looking back at it, it is always this balance that you need find as a driver and how much risk you are going to take and how much reward it is going to give you.

“Taking the second place that day was something that was not expected and it would have been great, but it didn’t happen and I lost a few points. It’s something I will continue to think about and maybe change the approach in those situations.”

The championship battle

Despite accumulating several titles in the junior categories, most notably in GP3 and Formula 2, Leclerc finds himself in the midst of a title battle for the first time in Formula 1, the young Ferrari driver however seems to relish the challenge.

“It feels really good, first of all, especially after the last few years that have been very difficult for the whole team,” Leclerc stated.

“We have been struggling a lot with performance, and to be fighting for sixth, eighth and tenth place, even if you are doing the perfect job, it is difficult for a team like Ferrari and for myself, so to be back at the top feels amazing.

“Whether it feels any different to what I experienced before getting to Formula One, not really. Of course you have a bit more pressure and expectations, but that doesn’t change much for me. The approach is the same as I had back in the past.”

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