Charles Leclerc on difference between him and Hamilton when fighting Verstappen

Michelle Foster
Charles Leclerc just ahead of Max Verstappen. Melbourne April 2022.

Charles Leclerc just ahead of Max Verstappen in the Australian Grand Prix. Melbourne April 2022.

Charles Leclerc reckons the respectful nature of his battles against Max Verstappen this past season were down to timing, meaning neither had a reason to take a risk.

Leclerc and Verstappen raced wheel-to-wheel in the opening rounds of the season, trading places no fewer than six times in Bahrain while Saudi Arabia also saw a game of DRS mischief play out. Australia and Imola were more muted affairs before Miami again saw them fight over P1.

It was a thrilling start to the championship for Ferrari and Red Bull fans, pundits praising the respectful racing between Leclerc and Verstappen which was in sharp contrast to the reigning World Champion’s tussles with Lewis Hamilton the previous season.

Even this year Verstappen and Hamilton made contact, the two colliding at the Senna Esses in the Sao Paulo Grand Prix where the Dutchman declared Hamilton had “zero intention to leave me space” while the Mercedes driver said “you know how it is with Max”.

And yet it’s not that way when he is racing Leclerc, Auto Motor und Sport asking the Ferrari driver why that is.

“We know each other very well,” he replied, “but I don’t think that is the reason why it’s quieter between us.

“I think the difference with Max versus Lewis from last year is that we were at different points in the season. Our duels were at the beginning of the year. After that, either I had a big lead in the championship or Max was way ahead.

“You don’t take as many risks. So it was more because of the nature of the championship.”

The Monégasque driver believes if it comes down to the end of a season and they are squabbling over the World title, it will be a very different story.

“If we fight to the end in 2023, I think it would be a tougher race,” he added.

Leclerc was asked if the respect Verstappen shows him had anything to do with Austria 2019, when the Red Bull driver pushed him off the track and Leclerc made it clear that won’t happen again.

The next time they tussled, which was at the British Grand Prix, Leclerc got his elbows out and won their duel.

“I hated the outcome of Austria,” he said. “I thought, you can’t drive like that. But when the stewards told me it was allowed, I was the first to welcome that approach.

“I like to fight hard on the track. At the limit. That’s how I like racing. Hopefully we will see such duels in the future.”

Max v Hamilton will always be more vicious than Max v Leclerc

Max Verstappen will always race Lewis Hamilton harder than he will Charles Leclerc, Hamilton the same, as there is no love lost between the two.

2021 was without a doubt the most thrilling season Formula 1 has witnessed in years, but it was also the most ill-tempered both on and off the track.

Verstappen and Hamilton put in 15 1-2 results,  they were that evenly matched, one going for a first World title and one for a record-breaking eighth.

Verstappen ended up in the barrier at the British Grand Prix with an impact of 50Gs. Verstappen put his car on top of Hamilton’s, literally, at the Italian Grand Prix, trying to pass up the inside and instead mounting the Mercedes.

Both occasions the driver had a lucky escape, saved from injury by Formula 1’s ever-improving safety standards.

That the season ended in controversy just added to all the bad feelings, Hamilton still bringing up Abu Dhabi and Verstappen making it clear, especially to Sky Sports, that he is over the negative commentary about it.

It’s no wonder Verstappen versus Hamilton on the track creates more drama than Verstappen versus Leclerc or Hamilton versus Leclerc.

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