Charles Leclerc ‘hated’ Max Verstappen as Ferrari driver looks back on karting rivalry

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Once the top of their class in karting, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen appeared destined to one day battle it out for Formula 1 honours. The duo share a healthy rivalry in motorsport’s biggest competition, but it wasn’t always the well-tempered dynamic fans see today.

In fact, incumbent leader Leclerc went so far as to say he and his Red Bull counterpart “hated each other” at the peak of their adolescent animosity. It’s unsurprising the pair were often jostling for the lead throughout their formative years, but Leclerc revealed the contest between them was once far more serious.

“It’s always been very close, especially in the junior categories. In karting, I remember it was either me or him and that’s why we hated each other at one point, because very often it didn’t end in the best way possible,” he said on Thursday.

“I think it’s a very different situation. We have matured a lot, we are much older – even though we are still 25 years old [both drivers are 24], which is still quite young. At this time there were episodes which made us hate each other, I’m pretty sure, on 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.”

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It’s ironic that the vitriol between the two has eased between then and now, when there are millions of pounds and F1 glory up for grabs. Verstappen edged Lewis Hamilton to clinch his maiden world championship last year, while Leclerc has stormed into an early lead this term and sits 34 points clear at the summit.

Having both grown more comfortable competing at the peak of their sport, the F1 stars can afford to let their driving do the talking for them. “So, it’s great now to be fighting in Formula 1 and there’s a lot of respect for each other,” added Leclerc. “So yes, it has changed, for sure.”

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Verstappen secured a valuable victory at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix after a tense duel with Leclerc, who won the other races thus far in Bahrain and Australia. The season resumes on Sunday with the Emilia Romanga Grand Prix at Imola in Italy.

Having retired from two thirds of the campaign to date, Verstappen’s primary goal will be to ensure his RB18 finishes the race. Only then can he expect to challenge his long-time adversary and look to chip away at Ferrari’s dominant lead.

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