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“Nothing Just an Inchident” - The Rivalry of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc

Written by Dylan Free, Edited by Sasha Macmillen

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc on a podium together in their karting days

Two races into the 2022 Formula 1 season and early signs have suggested that this year's championship will be between Ferrari and Red Bull. Both teams have a rivalry that goes back to the early 2010s, when Red Bull’s Sebastien Vettel (who later went on to join Ferrari) and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, with the Red Bulls beating the Prancing Horses on all occasions. Since that period, Red Bull haven’t seen such success, until last season when their chosen starboy, Max Verstappen, beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to the title. Ferrari on the other hand, have seen better cars than what Alonso used to get himself in a title fight, but have failed to capitalise with strategy and driver errors letting them down. In 2018, they announced that they had signed Charles Leclerc to race for them in 2019. He was Ferrari’s future star, just like Verstappen was with Red Bull. The only difference was that Ferrari never provided Charles with a car that could beat Mercedes consistently in 2019, before completely falling out of the championship fight in 2020 and 2021. However, in 2022 they have provided Charles with a car capable of winning the title, with Max Verstappen as his biggest challenger. Two races in, Charles won in Bahrain and Max won in Saudi Arabia, with the two going wheel to wheel in both races. But this rivalry is nothing new, as they have driven against each other years ago in go-karting, around the same time Vettel and Alonso were fighting in Formula 1.

The Karting Days

It was the WSK Euro Series in karts when the rivalry really kicked off between these two young drivers. Max and Charles were far in front of the rest, showing their evidently quick pace. Max was ahead and Charles went for a move and pushed Max wide, then a few corners Max returned the favour, slightly more aggressively hitting Leclerc wide, losing positions. Leclerc, who fought his way back to second, showing his discontent for Verstappen's actions, hit him after the race into a big puddle of water. Being interviewed after the race Max wasn't pleased and said:

“No, it's just unfair. I’m leading, he wants to pass, he pushes me, I push him back, and then after he pushes me off the track. It's not fair.”

Leclerc, was the asked about the incident and had much less to say:

“Nothing, it was just an ‘inchident’ in the race”

This was just the beginning of a rivalry throughout karts and now in F1.

The Rise to F1

Max Verstappen was the first of the two to make it to F1, making his race weekend debut in Japan 2014, driving in the first practice session for Toro Rosso, finishing in an impressive 12th. The next season he joined Toro Rosso permanently, making his race debut at the 2015 Australian Grand Prix, where he retired with an engine issue. He finished 12th in the standings that season with a total of 49 points. He got his lucky break the next season, when Red Bull decided to drop Daniil Kvyat and promote Verstappen to the Red Bull first team. It didn't take long for Max to impress as he took full advantage of the two Mercedes drivers colliding with each other to win his first Grand Prix on his Red Bull debut at the Spanish Grand Prix 2016. Max has won another 20 races since and one world championship, which was Red Bull's first championship since Sebastian Vettel in 2013.

It wasn't as easy for Charles Leclerc however, as the Monegasque had to wait until 2018 to make his debut at the Australian Grand Prix for Sauber. He impressed the bosses at Ferrari, and signed for the Scuderia in 2019. Just like Max, it didn't take long to impress people, as he put himself on pole on just his second race for Ferrari. He was leading in Bahrain but his engine lost power as he was approaching the end, and dropped to third. He came back and won from pole in Spa later that year, and then again in Monza, which sent the Tifosi crazy as it was Ferrari's first home race win since Fernando Alonso in 2010. Unfortunately for Leclerc, that was as good as it got until 2022, as Ferrari’s performance was not as good as its rivals and fell away from the front. Leclerc did treat himself to two poles in 2021, including one at his home race in Monaco, but an issue with his driveshaft caused him to retire before the race started. Verstappen went on to win that race. Charles will be determined to take advantage of his good car this year so he can make up for the years he spent away from the front.

The F1 Battles

Despite only one season before 2022 in which Verstappen and Leclerc had similar performance in their respective machinery, they have had some notable fights in F1. Austria 2019 was a fight for the lead in the closing stages. Verstappen started on pole but after an issue at the start, he fell back a load of places and was required to fight his way back up the field, while Leclerc got away at the front. It wasn't until lap 67 of 71 that Max caught Charles, but Leclerc defended brilliantly until on Lap 69 Vaerstappen got his elbows out and got past Leclerc to win. The move by Verstappen was controversial, as he broke late and didn’t turn into the apex and forced Leclerc off track, a type of move they provided each other with in karts. It was looked at by the stewards after the race but the move was allowed and Verstappen kept his win.

It wasn't long until Leclerc got his revenge and that was at the next race in Silverstone. Verstappen spent a lot of the race trying to get past Leclerc, who wouldn't budge. Leclerc moved late, barged him off the road and more to keep him behind. Hard and fair racing we pay to see. It ended when Verstappen eventually got past, but the battle was one to live long in the memory.

Verstappen and Leclerc after the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Now we are in 2022 and the pair have fought for the lead in both of the two races, with Leclerc winning out in Bahrain, before Verstappen's engine failed. Then a week later Verstappen beat Leclerc to the line by half a second. With the new regulations making it easier to follow cars, who's to say they won't be fighting for the lead every race this season. What started as a karting ‘inchident’ in 2012, might just turn itself into potentially one of the greatest F1 rivalries of all time.

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