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Why Leclerc is fighting a different Verstappen to the one Hamilton faced

Charles Leclerc is currently getting the better of Max Verstappen, helped by Red Bull's clear reliability problems. However, Christian Horner believes that his young driver is much-changed from the one who battled Lewis Hamilton hard during 2021.

Charles Leclerc is doing battle with a Max Verstappen much-changed from the driver who fought Lewis Hamilton in 2021, according to Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. Verstappen, now free of the pressure of having never won a World Championship, is said to be feeling "very relaxed" about his fight with Leclerc. The 24-year-old had an unyielding approach to last year's title battle with Hamilton, which ran until the very last lap of the final race. The pair came together multiple times over the course of the season, with their incidents sparking much controversy.

Verstappen now "released of pressure"

This season, Verstappen has found himself regularly trading places with Leclerc on track, with the Ferrari driver so far getting the better of him. But Horner has suggested that Verstappen is now racing as something of a changed man, thanks to the number one that's now prominent on his RB18 car. "He's very relaxed," said Horner, speaking to members of the media, including RacingNews365.com . "He's still racing with the same vitality that he's always had, but I think having that first World Championship on his CV, now having the number one on the car, in many ways releases you of pressure."

What next for Verstappen in F1?

Verstappen's start to the 2022 season has been far from perfect, although through no fault of his own. The Dutchman won the only Grand Prix his car allowed him to finish in Saudi Arabia, while he was forced to retire in Bahrain and Australia. He is now 46 points behind Leclerc. Yet, with the pressure of that first title lifted, Horner is expecting to see Verstappen continue to grow as a driver, much like Sebastian Vettel did following his unlikely maiden title triumph with Red Bull in 2010. "That expectation for that first title is always, obviously, very high. Now he has that achieved already," continued Horner. "We saw it with Sebastian and in many respects, it relieves pressure. I think he's just continuing to evolve, continuing to develop, and you have to remember that he's still only 24 years of age."

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