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Leclerc Exclusive: "I have a lot of respect for what Verstappen has achieved"

Speaking exclusively to RacingNews365.com, Charles Leclerc opens up about his relationship with main title rival Max Verstappen and teammate Carlos Sainz.

At the beginning of the 2022 Formula 1 season it looked like Charles Leclerc was the man to beat. But after just two race wins at the beginning of the season, it would be the Austrian Grand Prix that Leclerc would take his final victory before Max Verstappen went on the run of wins that led to him clinching the title at the Japanese Grand Prix. The race at the Red Bull Ring was one of the examples of on-track battles between Leclerc and Verstappen this season, much like their days in junior karting championships. "Verstappen and I have a more mature relationship than then," says Leclerc, speaking exclusively to RacingNews365.com . "The mutual relationship [we had] before that, when we were still in karts and were thirteen, fourteen years old, was different. "Now it is very different, but I said before that the relationship would be more tense if we were at the end of would compete for the points in the Formula 1 season. But that's how it goes, that's part of the sport." Regardless of their history, Leclerc has nothing but praise for his 25 year-old title rival and achieving the dream they both had when they were young. "Of course I have a lot of respect for Max. He has done very well and I have a lot of respect for what he has achieved. "When we drove in karts, we dreamed of Formula 1 together and here we are now! He has the title I won and I have a lot of respect for that."

In F1 the driver you are compared to most is your teammate. If they are winning or getting poles, everyone starts to question why you can't win and get poles in the same machinery. Leclerc made pretty short work of out-driving Carlos Sainz at the start of the season, but once the Spaniard achieved his first race win at the British Grand Prix he started to match the results of Leclerc more consistently. By comparison, Sergio Perez has consistently been slower compared to Verstappen, with the average performance deficit being around six tenths between them over the course of the season. Leclerc's continued working relationship with Sainz has been key to the teams success at out-qualifying Red Bull at nearly all of the races this year. "My relationship with Carlos is very good. We didn't know each other very well before we were at Ferrari. We didn't talk much before Ferrari, except when he told me that he dreamed of driving for Ferrari one day," says Leclerc. "But yes, our relationship is very good. In racing we are of course very competitive, but together we work very well to help the team move forward. "Besides the track we do a lot of activities together, so our bond has also become closer." With eight podiums to Leclerc's nine, Sainz has turned around his fortunes. Part of this is down to the fact that Leclerc got to grips with the F1-75 quicker, but the Monegasque believes his teammate is only going to get quicker. "I hope Carlos gets faster! I think he is indeed getting faster," added Leclerc. "Personally, of course, I always try to get better and better during a season. Looking at this season, I immediately felt good in the car." "During the test days, my engineers did a really good job, getting me ready for the first race. "I knew roughly what I wanted from the car and it kind of came naturally, which made me feel more comfortable in the car at the start of the season than Carlos did. "In the end he managed to find that comfort and came back strong."

Leclerc: "This year, team orders wouldn't have made a difference"

The battle for second in the Drivers' Championship is still firmly on between Leclerc and Perez. With just four races left, its integral that Leclerc outscores the Mexican on track. When asked if Ferrari will make difficult decisions to secure P2 such as team orders, Leclerc does not want to discuss publicly with the scrutiny of the media. "I am not in a position to ask anything from the team. And if I have to ask something like that from my team, I will discuss it with my team. "I don't want it out there [in the media, because] it becomes a mess," he explains. "This year, team orders wouldn't have made a difference and I'm not the one making those decisions. "That's up to Mattia [Binotto] and I'm just trying to do my best in the car and prove myself. I'm not going to say too much about that."

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