Max Verstappen has been warned that his title fight with Charles Leclerc could yet become as intense and fiery as his fight with Lewis Hamilton last season. That’s the message from Ferrari driver Leclerc himself, who refused to rule out things heating up in the duel for the 2022 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship.
Red Bull driver Verstappen is the clear favorite to win the title thanks to an 80-point advantage in the standings. Ferrari realistically needs the Dutchman to endure at least two DNFs or two wasteful finishes – equivalent to finishing a race 11th or lower – to have any chance of overturning the deficit.
However, since two retirements in the first three races of the year, Verstappen has won seven out of 10 races while only missing out on the podium once. Verstappen’s championship pursuit is much more comfortable and sedate than it was last season, when he clashed with Mercedes’ Hamilton.
The pair were involved in several on-track accidents and often verbally clashed off the track. And they continued their war of words this year.
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Verstappen said last week that he preferred his rivalry with Ferrari and Leclerc this season. He says there is greater respect between the teams and their drivers and added: “We are tough competitors on the track and we will always try to fight but apart from that you can also have a good time. , and that’s what I’ve really enjoyed this year.”
But Leclerc apparently isn’t against bulldozing that friendship – should it happen – later this year. He said BBC Sports: “It depends on the situation, the person you are facing, your opponent. How far is he ready to go? This year, either I had a big advantage in the league and then you are not really willing to take those risks.
” Where he [Verstappen] had a big advantage in the championship and he’s not really ready to take any risks. Or I’m not really ready to take risks because I need to make up points. So, I feel like last year’s championship was probably a lot more prone to seeing that stuff because it was so close until the very end.
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“I would have expected us to be a lot more like that [like Hamilton vs Verstappen] if the championship will be extremely tight towards the end. [If] it’s not over, so maybe we’ll see that at the end of the year.”
Leclerc agreed with Verstappen as he reflected on how they are more respectful in wheel-to-wheel battles than in their karting days. He added: “Max and I were extremely aggressive and that’s why it didn’t end very well most of the time. When we were younger it was a bit more messy and obviously we were children. But now the relationship has improved, and there is a lot of respect.”
Hamilton meanwhile said ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix – where Verstappen extended his championship advantage – that Leclerc should not give up this year’s title. He said: “It’s a huge gap with Max, so it’s pretty fluid for him in that space. But a lot of things can go wrong. I would just advise Ferrari to keep their heads down and keep pushing. “
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