Formula One title-chaser Charles Leclerc has admitted he 'hated' defending world champion Max Verstappen during the pair's karting days.
The two young drivers have a deep history racing against one another, with that rivalry set to come to a head once again in the 2022 season as the pair battle for the title.
Two retirements in the opening three races of the season have left Verstappen well adrift of Leclerc in the standings, though the pair are on much better terms than they once were. In fact, Leclerc admits that their rivalry was once so fierce that the pair despised each other – with the two drivers both competing for a spot in F1.
“It’s always been very close, especially in the junior categories. In karting, I remember it was either me or him and that’s why we hated each other at one point, because very often it didn’t end in the best way possible," he said on Thursday ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
“I think it’s a very different situation. We have matured a lot, we are much older – even though we are still 25 years old, which is still quite young. At this time there were episodes which made us hate each other, I’m pretty sure, on some occasions, but then you grow up – obviously we’ve both achieved one of our dreams which was to arrive in Formula 1 – and at that time it was just a dream; everything looked impossible.
“So, it’s great now to be fighting in Formula 1 and there’s a lot of respect for each other. So yes, it has changed, for sure.”
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Verstappen echoed the words of his title rival, adding: “Like Charles said, we’ve matured a lot and we’re both in Formula 1 and I mean we are in two top teams and fighting for race wins, and what happened in go-karting, it’s actually – you can laugh about it now – good times.
“I mean, we basically grew up through go-karting from, I think, 12 years old, and of course we were very similar in age. We already had a lot of go-karting battles but also we made our way through to Formula 1.
"And not only the two of us – a lot of drivers like George [Russell], Carlos [Sainz], we already saw each other at the go-karting tracks and now we are all here in F1 basically fighting with top teams. It’s really nice to see that and I hope it can continue for a long time."
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