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Charles Leclerc

Leclerc won't rule out Verstappen rivalry becoming more intense

The 2022 title battle between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen has been largely good-natured, in contrast to the 2021 rivalry between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. However, Leclerc does not rule out this year's fight increasing in intensity.

Verstappen Leclerc sprintrace Austria
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Charles Leclerc says his relationship with F1 title rival Max Verstappen has mellowed since they first locked horns in their karting days.

Being less than a month apart in age, Leclerc and Verstappen frequently competed against each other in karts, with Leclerc finishing second behind the Dutchman in the 2013 CIK-FIA World KZ Championship.

While the rivalry between them in the 2022 Formula 1 season has largely been respectful, Leclerc said this was not always the case in the early days of their racing careers.

"Max and myself were extremely aggressive and that's why it didn't end up very well most of the time," Leclerc told BBC Sport.

"When we were younger, it was a bit more messy and obviously we were kids.

"But now the relationship has improved, and there's a lot of respect."

Will relations deteriorate?

Though their 2022 title battle has been mostly incident-free, the pair have had notable on-track encounters with each other during their F1 careers.

After Verstappen barged Leclerc off the track to take the lead with three laps to go in the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, Leclerc reacted with a robust defence of his position from Verstappen at the following race in Silverstone.

Leclerc noted the 2022 season had seen both drivers take the championship into consideration, but did not rule out their rivalry increasing in intensity.

"It depends on the situation, on the person you're facing, your opponent. How far is he willing to go?" said Leclerc.

"This year, either I had a big advantage in the championship and then you are not really willing to take those risks.

"Or he had a big advantage in the championship and he is not really willing to risk. Or I am not really willing to risk because I need to catch up points."

Leclerc also referenced the often-controversial title fight in 2021 between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, with the two drivers frequently colliding with each other during the course of that season.

"I feel like the championship of last year was probably much more prone to see these type of things because it was so close until the very end," Leclerc added.

"I would have expected us to be much more like this if the championship will be extremely close towards the end. [If] it's not finished, then we might see that at the end of the year."

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