Verstappen and Leclerc’s history makes F1’s 2022 title fight one to savour

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The opening two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia served up a tasty appetiser for the season ahead.

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc went wheel-to-wheel, battling for victory in both races, the pair now tied at one win apiece.

For now, at least, their rivalry is respectful. But Leclerc has been biding his time in an uncompetitive Ferrari for the past few seasons, waiting to pounce and settle unfinished business with Verstappen from past occasions when the pair have crossed swords.

Their rivalry dates back to their karting days when the duo competed in Italy as children. Verstappen had the beating of Leclerc in 2010, winning almost every championship he entered, the future Ferrari driver coming in towards the back of the grid. Then from 2011, the international wins started coming for Leclerc too.

The rivalry between the pair was captured in footage from the second round of the 2012 WSK Euro Series where the pair collided.

Verstappen and Leclerc in 2012

The Italian reporter initially approaches Verstappen, alongside his father Jos, to ask what happened on track. A young Verstappen responds, “it’s just unfair. I’m leading, and he wants to pass, and he pushes me. I push him back, and after he pushes me off the track. It’s not fair.”

The reporter then asks a fresh-faced Leclerc the same thing. His nonplussed response “nothing, just an incident on the race” has achieved meme status since the pair became F1 stars.

The pair stepped into cars in 2014. Verstappen leapt straight from Formula 3 to F1 the following year. Leclerc’s path was more conventional, competing in Formula Renault, then to GP3 (now FIA F3) and Formula 2, taking the latter title in style in 2017.

Verstappen was already in a Red Bull by then. After a strong debut season for Sauber, Leclerc was promoted to Ferrari by 2019. Soon after, the two locked horns at the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix. Leclerc, seeking his first F1 win, led 59 of the 71 laps.

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With 14 laps to go, Verstappen was trailing Leclerc by five seconds but had the Ferrari in his crosshairs as the race drew to a close.

Verstappen denied Leclerc his first F1 win in 2019
Never one to let an opportunity pass him by, Verstappen launched at Leclerc, sending his Red Bull up the inside at turn three, the pair making brief contact. Leclerc was forced wide and gave up the place.

Verstappen crossed the line first, but an investigation was launched. Leclerc was furious. “What the hell is that?” he fumed over the radio. Verstappen, however, was quick to put the blame elsewhere, insisting: “He turned in on me.”

After a lengthy investigation, the stewards decided they “did not consider that either driver was wholly or predominantly to blame for the incident. We consider that this is a racing incident.” Verstappen was victorious and Leclerc would have to wait a few weeks longer for his first F1 win.

The pair encountered each other again at Silverstone last year, where Leclerc fought Verstappen hard. “I think he was a little bit sore still from Austria,” observed the Red Bull driver afterwards.

We’ve seen hard but fair racing between the pair during the opening rounds. But is history about to repeat itself? Recall how Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton said around this time last year they trusted each other to keep their fight clean, and the rancour that followed. Swipes came from both the Red Bull and Mercedes camps as the season headed towards its deeply controversial conclusion.

In Bahrain Leclerc came out on top…
Leclerc has never been in a Formula 1 championship fight before. Now he seemingly has the machinery under him. At the season-opener in Bahrain, he put one over Verstappen, the pair swapping the lead several times, as Leclerc sent a warning shot to any rivals.

Speaking ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Leclerc admitted he felt more in control during that race than he did had for any of his other F1 wins. “As a driver I felt like I’m better than what I was in 2019, especially in the race pace,” he said.

“I think it was definitely one of my weakest points in 2019. I was always quite strong in qualifying, always managed to put the lap when it mattered, but then on tyre management especially I was quite weak, so I put a lot of work into it.

“In 2020 I got much better, 2021 again much better. Actually last year, it was probably my strongest point, the tyre management and the race management. So in Bahrain everything was much more under control.

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“There was obviously moments where it was very tricky with Max pushing massively behind but overall, I had the control of my pace, of my tyres and everything felt good.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull and Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2022
…but in Jeddah Verstappen found a way by
Verstappen’s straight-line speed advantage tipped the balance in the fight between the pair last weekend, a point which won’t have been lost on Leclerc. But Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto believes the driver Ferrari put its faith in for the long-term is better prepared for the challenge than ever.

“When renewing with him in the last years up to 2024 it’s because we know he is capable of,” said Binotto. “I think he has simply demonstrated that he is capable of fighting for the championship, no doubt.

“He has got the talent, he has got the capacity, he is a very good racer and very happy with what he is doing in these races.”

Still it didn’t pass unnoticed that Leclerc had a tough fight within his own team last year. New team mate Carlos Sainz Jnr settled in quickly at the team, scored four podiums to Leclerc’s one and beat him in the points standings. There may be days when Leclerc has to worry about the other red car as well as the Red Bulls.

On the face of the first two races, with Mercedes seemingly out of the picture – at least for now – Leclerc has emerged as the greatest threat to the world champion. He’s looked calm and measured in his fights with Verstappen so far and holds the points lead at this early stage.

But much like Verstappen’s battle with Hamilton last year, his rivalry with Leclerc could get heated. No doubt the producers of Drive to Survive are eagerly anticipating that possibility.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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54 comments on “Verstappen and Leclerc’s history makes F1’s 2022 title fight one to savour”

  1. I thought Jenson Button was spot on with his comments during the Sky broadcast of the Saudi Arabia race. Something like: “People say these guys are the future. They’re not the future, they’re the now.”

    Together with the new regulations it really does feel like we are at the start of a new era of F1. After the least competitive decade in F1 history, and a couple of transitional years, it does seem like we are watching the beginning of something truly memorable. I can’t think of a better pair of drivers to lead us into that than Verstappen and Leclerc.

    1. Allan (@allancuttingedge)
      2nd April 2022, 4:46

      George and Lando should join the fight with better cars.

  2. Thank you for the article.

    “The pair encountered each other again at Silverstone thatyear…”, not last year.

    1. Coventry Climax
      1st April 2022, 20:31

      To me, the article is way too much DTS-style. But hey, if that’s your thing.

    2. And it was the next race after Austria.

      Leclerc was amazing I recall.

  3. These cars look very raceable. I don’t think we’ll see as many desperate lunges.

    1. That’s a good point

  4. We wont see a repeat of last year for a number of reasons:
    – Everybody has learned from it and no one wants it again.
    – Red Bull genuinely didnt like Mercedes, the same cant be said for Ferrari. Its clear they respect them.
    – Leclerc is a different beast to Hamilton.
    – There was a genuine element of desperation in Red Bulls fight with Mercedes that meant that lunges and over-the-top racing were going to happen. Thats not the case this year.

    I think we’ll probably see a 2010 style fight to the end. Some tense moments, but nothing like last year.

    1. I think there’s quite a lot of assumption in this forecast. Last year it was all fine until Silverstone, when Max threw away 32 points with a reckless move and then he and Red Bull were going berserk calling it a professional foul and all Hamilton’s fault, when now it’s clear from Pat Symonds that it was Max’s own side wake that caused Hamilton’s understeer.

      And right up to the end Max was making wild moves including a brake test, running across the chicane, rejoining unsafely, and was beyond lucky to get bailed out.

      And I see no reason why the next clash between Verstappen and LeClerc won’t trigger the same stubborn denial of liability and furious finger-pointing. I mean we can hope, but I don’t see any actual evidence. And LeClerc is if anything a more aggressive beast than Hamilton.

      1. So Max existing on the race track makes Hamilton understeering in an overzealous move his fault?

        Well that’s certainly a conclusion.

        1. JustSomeone
          1st April 2022, 16:44

          All those details really don’t matter… If Ver had any real experience in trying to win a championship, he would have let some room and would have taken the points.

          1. Even Nico Rosberg disagrees with you. You don’t go into a corner thinking I need to backout because the other guy might miss the apex and understeer into me.

      2. All fine until Silverstone? Not really. The whining between the two teams was already going on for weeks. Max felt robbed as early as Bahrain, and Lewis had the same in Imola where he said he needed to prevent a crash. Silverstone was a crash waiting to happen from the first test day out.

      3. @zann

        Max’s own side wake that caused Hamilton’s understeer


        1. Aka outwash @wsrgo. It’s quite obvious on Lewis’ onboard and the aerial. Adrian knows all about it obviously and that makes Red Bull’s posturing 100% disingenuous, and repeatable with Charles if necessary.

      4. Max’s own side wake that caused Hamilton’s understeer.

        Whether you’re a Max or Lewis fan, I think we can all appreciate the comedy of this statement. By the same logic, crashing into someone you get a tow from due to the closing speed is all their fault because they shouldn’t have been disrupting the air in front of you.

      5. Noframingplease (@)
        1st April 2022, 16:55

        @zann Indeed you do a lot of assumptions. Like Max was to blame at silverstone by his reckless move. 50 laps later we saw Leclerc making exactly the same move with hamilton. Do you lewis fans apply double standards with these situations? Oh and you forgot the whining from Toto and Lewis from the beginning of last season about that Honda engine. Those insinuations plus the succesfull influencing the FIA by Toto created a certain atmosphere we now luckily now got rid off. Oh and about the respect we now see between max and Charles. That certainly will not stay the whole season but it’s better than beginning silly mindgames and framing your opponent in a bad way, like lewis does from the start of each season.

      6. Last year it was all fine until Silverstone, when Max threw away 32 points with a reckless

        100% Hamilton fault.

        1. At least predominantly, which could mean 60-70, as the stewards said.

      7. @zann As with the others I couldn’t disagree more with your opinion. As well, if indeed LH experienced side wake, that should have been anticipated by LH and should have been nothing new and totally expected by him. He should have accounted for that and he obviously didn’t and therefore was deemed to have hit Max. But you’re obviously anti-Max, so of course you will come up with any nonsense you can think of, no matter how much it embarrasses you as a result.

        1. @zann
          That’s quite a fairytale you have concocted there.
          I don’t care how people try to defend LH at Silverstone last year, there is a big difference in chancing a wheel up the inside at a slow chicane or hairpin and a corner like Copse. It’s your duty as the driver behind with the better field of vision to ensure potentially lethal collisions like that don’t happen. He was miles away from the apex and carried too much speed for his line unlike when he passed Leclerc more safely.

        2. The person who needed to know about outwash @robbie was the person deciding about turning in on the car he was looking at next to him, at 250kph. Hamilton was already on the brakes after seeing Max move out wide for the line.

          But on the face of it Max hasn’t learned anything from it, whereas LeClerc in the same situation put the same pressure on, but left himself a fallback. This contrast between the two – stubborn vs thinking – could well be decisive this year I think.

          1. @zann Repeating inaccurate speculative nonsense does not make a difference towards my opinion. There is a reason why the penalty went to Hamilton. You grasping at straws is all this is.

          2. I am not hoping to change your opinion @robbie. I’m putting evidence forward for people who base their opinions on it.

          3. @zann Haven’t seen you put a stick of evidence to your argument so if anyone wants to base their opinion on yours then that‘s silly of them. Meanwhile, the stewards had all the evidence and came to the conclusion they did.

          4. Everyone else can see it @robbie and they can see you choosing not to see it, along with, for example, the selective way you pick the stewards over more or less all the pundits who called it a racing incident. They may be aware the stewards backed Masi who was later found to have ‘made a mistake’, and that their value as evidence is not that great.

            We could summarise what they’re seeing as ‘agenda’.

          5. By the way you can search this: “He also made the intriguing revelation that his engineers had modelled the controversial accident involving Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at last year’s British GP – and discovered that the old cars lost a lot of downforce even when battling side-by-side.”

          6. @zann You still haven’t provided any evidence, just words and conjecture, and if you want to hang your hat on side wake and loss of downforce that’s fine, blame LH for not accounting for that, as he is the one that hit Max. He did not keep control of his car. You’d laugh if Max hit someone and claimed “wasn’t me it was ‘side wake,” lol.

    2. Red Bull team races with Ferraris 488 in DTM

  5. Barry Bens (@barryfromdownunder)
    1st April 2022, 13:40

    To me it showed perfectly this last weekend. Horner and Binotto having a calm chat and Max and Charles giving eachother thumbs up (and patting on the back after Bahrein).
    Both teams are glad it’s not the unlikable Mercedes/Wolff/Hamilton-combi and instead it’s 4 likable characters and 2 likable teams/teambosses.

    One can only hope it doesn’t become sour, but I doubt it will. Verstappen is happy with his first title and won’t go all-in and risking it all and Leclerc is much calmer than Hamillton ever was and will be.

    1. Both teams are glad it’s not the unlikable Mercedes/Wolff/Hamilton-combi and instead it’s 4 likable characters and 2 likable teams/teambosses.

      This is the kind of garbage one desperately wishes not to come across but trust Barry to spew it out – all the time. Many people wouldn’t label Red Bull and it’s characters likable but they are mature enough to know that “likable” is such a subjective quantity that using it doesn’t make sense. Those same people are sensible enough to know that the seeming calm/respect won’t last long under the pressure of a title fight. Neither will it be long before the first incident between the two happens (even though the cars are a lot more race-able). When that happens, I wonder what you’ll have to say.

    2. Luke S (@joeypropane)
      1st April 2022, 15:44

      Woah Woah Woah, hold on now…

      Did you just reference Christian Horner as likeable?!

    3. Fully agree with you Barry. +1

    4. Alan Thomson
      1st April 2022, 20:25

      I’m sorry but Horner is just as unlikable as Wolff.

      1. I don’t see how you can compare wolff and horner.

  6. I think Ferrari will have the upper hand. The car should be a little faster at most tracks unless Red Bull develop better over the season, Leclerc has proven exceptional in qualifying and he’s a smart racer. Sainz is also a stronger driver than Perez. The Leclerc-Verstappen rivalry is dead even. Both know the other well and there are moves Verstappen tried with Hamilton that Leclerc has learnt not to accept. I doubt anyone has ‘learnt’ anything from last year. If they can get away with pushing the racing regulations, they will. Neither feel the need to just now. But the same applied in 2021 for a while. The other issue for Max and Red Bull’s WDC challenge (I’m sure the WCC is Ferrari’s) is the potential resurgence of Mercedes. Just enough to become awkward. And with little reason for Hamilton to go easy on Verstappen this time round if the WDC is beyond reach – just like Max during the Mercedes-Ferrari battles a few years ago, Lewis will have nothing to lose and a lot of fun to be had racing. Same applies to George Russell. How Verstappen and Leclerc handle all this pressure will be key. Sainz though could be the dark horse in the battle. There’s an echo of 2008 and Massa/Raikkonen versus Hamilton when Massa actually ended up the closest Ferrari driver to the WDC by the end.

    1. Dutchguy (@justarandomdutchguy)
      1st April 2022, 14:59

      The only way I see this coming towards Verstappen/RB is if Ferrari do indeed muck up developing their car. It simply looks competative in a wider variery of circumstances. Also, I don’t think Sainz will threaten leclerc. Not only has Leclerc consistently had the upper hand over the past two weeks, but Ferrari has shown over the years to have no issue running one driver as a designated number 2. Leclerc himself knows how to handle Verstappen and had proven over the years to have no issue getting a little aggressive himself to get back at him.
      Ferrari are my favorites for both titles, but RB won’t make it easy for them.

      1. JustSomeone
        1st April 2022, 16:49

        Don’t think so… The RB looks a lot faster, definitely so in DRS and top speed.

        Lec was a lot smarter in Bahrain and Ver missed the restart before the RB broke down. Ver mucked up quali in Saudi Arabia, made mistakes behind Lec, but not enough to not being able to use the speed advantage.

        I don’t think Ver will keep making those mistakes and he is the definite #1 for RB.

        1. Ferrari had a lot longer to get their car to this standard too. The overweight RB is pretty much equal even with less time spent on it.
          I would love them to be frozen like this to watch these sort of battles all year.
          I’d love to see data on which teams develop the most historically and how much lap time they find over each season.

    2. The Leclerc-Verstappen rivalry is dead even.

      Nonsense. Based on what?
      Also, their rivalry since the karting days is in fact inexistent. There was no such rivalry. Leclerc came close to Max on a couple of occasions and the so-called journalists created the so-called rivalry based on that one single video from 2012. There was only Verstappen dominanation on equaly matched karts.
      Verstappen beat Leclerc comfortably in 2019 having much weaker car.
      The only way how Leclerc can beat Verstappen over a course of a season is having a better car, as it is clearly the case at this moment in time, but that will change likely in the 2nd half of the season at latest.

      1. +1 on the rivalry comment. Lewis out of the picture, and the media throws in another rivalry. Anything to spice up the season. The rest, we’ll have to see. Leclerc looks very competitive, and has not a Ferrari he has to overdrive to get results. He will likely make less mistakes as a result of that.

        1. Mistakes are just mistakes. People always says he makes mistakes because he had to overdrive the car. It’s absolutely not the fact this is the issue. He makes mistakes often in desperation, like his mistake in Monaco Q3 in 2021, when he knew he is down and basically had almost no chances to improve, hence he knew he’ll likely be beaten. He had the best car and binned it, same as his teammate that day, nothing to do with overdriving the car. He already made few mistakes, luckily they didn’t cost him too much, although it’s arguable if his mistake in FP2 in Jeddah and the lack of long run simulation didn’t cost them anything.
          It’s clear he is fast and talented enough to score poles and win races from poles having the fastest car. Clearly he is faster than his teammate more often than not, but it was also clear prior to the 2021 season and nothing has changed still, but he somehow got outscored in the WDC.
          Let’s see what will happen when things won’t go his way (as they go very much his way so far), when not only the Bulls will be faster but also his teammate or even Mercedes. What will happen when he’ll have excessive tyre wear, which was sometimes his achiness feet in the past, I’m sure we’ll see occasions. That’s where things may become spicy, that’s where pressure builds up and mistakes can happen. Not only Charles, Ferrari as a racing team were mistake prone as well in the past. Will Charles be able to keep his cool then? Let’s see.

      2. Nonsense. Based on what?

        Ehh, watching Formula 1 races? I think Max is slightly faster but Leclerc is a tad smarter. I also think if the entire season was wet track racing, Verstappen would win easily (against CL anyhow). But otherwise, dead even. The first two races of the season demonstrate how close they are. I think. Your entitled to your (nonsense!) opinion that Max is way better, of course.

        1. I just think it is too early days to be setting in stone what is going to happen over the season. Dead even? Yeah…for now.

          For me, if it stays ‘dead even’ for the season my money is on Max. I think he is a better driver than CL. I don’t think CL is smarter, but a great racer for sure, and I think we have to see yet how he will do under the greatest pressure he will have ever felt if indeed this season goes down to the wire. I think Max wins in talent and in ability to handle pressure when it is at it’s greatest.

          But my main points would be the season is too young to know much right now other than it is likely a RBR/Ferrari fight. But we have to see how they each develop their cars, and they still have so much learning to do that I just think by mid-season there is as much a chance of one team having faster cars than the other, as there is of them still being dead even.

          Let’s just see how it plays out, like we have a choice lol. RBR’s priority right now is to lose some weight, and from what I have read they have a plan for that which should shed 8kg from their car which equates to .25 seconds per lap. It’s going to be fascinating to watch.

          1. @robbie Well, you’re agreeing with me! And yes, obviously, it’s dead even – for now. That could and probably will change. Maybe Max is more talented, I tend to think so. I’m unsure about handling pressure though. When he was tested at the end of the season, his driving became more erratic and over the line (I think). That’s where I think he could come unstuck in any end of season fight with Leclerc. We’d have to see.

          2. @david-br Yeah for sure it all just has to play out one race at a time naturally, and as to the potential for Max to come ‘unstuck in any end of season fight with Leclerc,’ I have seen nothing in CL that suggests any less potential of that happening to him.

            Just as one example of an aspect from last year, perhaps Max in his last few races (or more) was still stinging from the points he had lost earlier in the season through no fault of his own, that in his mind meant he should have had the Championship wrapped up sooner, and even with RBR having the WCC, so that might have added an element psychologically that might not at all repeat itself as a dynamic this season between Max and CL, RBR and Ferrari. As well another aspect is that this is seemingly (early days) no longer about RBR having this tantalizing chance to knock the dominant Mercedes dynasty off the top of the mountain after their run of consecutive years, like last year.

          3. Leclerc is probably the most headstrong of any driver on the grid. He lost his father in the week leading up to his F2 race in Baku. Still took pole, won the first race, and was leading the second until a 10s penalty demoted him to second. Growing up racing myself, losing my father in the early stages of my car racing career would have destroyed me. You spend every weekend together racing, in the weeks you’re working on the karts or cars. To lose someone that influential in your life and be able to continue at the level he was shows incredible tenacity.

  7. Funny how in F1, you are only as good as last weekend, and this is now the title fight.

    Nevermind Perez, Carlos, etc.

    Mercedes is done for the year?

    1. JustSomeone
      1st April 2022, 16:53

      Hey, they have to think up something now that there is still a +1 second PER LAP gap to most of the rest of the field. Maybe 2026 will be different.

  8. Yes it’s all nice and friendly after 2 races between drivers and constructors. Let’s see after another 10 rounds.

  9. I find the media’s constant need to make the rivalry between any two front runners personal and bitter amusing, cringe and predictable.

  10. We’ve had two races. Let’s wait and see how things pan out before we start talking about rivalry.

    Both are young, both seem to want to win and maybe aren’t mature enough to know when to back off and take the points available rather than take an unnecessary risk for a win. So far they have shown great race craft and great maturity but we have a lot of season to go.

    Let’s see what happens if one of them gets a decent lead and the other has to press a bit harder for wins to reduce the deficit. That’s when true colours are shown.

    Personally, I’m not expecting “unfair” behaviour, but I am expecting that there’ll be some hard racing that could end in tears.

  11. Ganesh Krishnasamy
    2nd April 2022, 14:10

    Note down my name, Perez is going to be crowned the new champion at the end of this season. People might think that I am weeded. Hold on, I have got my second opinion. Alonso would have been added more trophy than Hamilton if he had got a better machinery all through his career.

  12. I still like how their views post-2019 Austrian GP were more or less the exact opposites of those in that 2012 WSK Euro Series karting event.
    These two battling for this season’s WDC until the end is possible, although I hope Sainz could stay in the battle (I don’t have massive hope for Mercedes drivers nor Perez despite the season being young).

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