Max Verstappen dismisses ‘feud’ with Charles Leclerc, calling him ‘one of F1’s most talented’

Verstappen Leclerc F1 feud
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Image
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Max Verstappen loathes exaggerated rivalries and the Formula One champion won’t be pulled into a manufactured F1 feud with Charles Leclerc as he attempts to defend his title this season.

Leclerc won last week’s season-opening race in Bahrain in part by outlasting Verstappen in a wheel-to-wheel, back-and-forth passing battle in the early laps. Leclerc went on to win from the pole for Ferrari; Verstappen failed to finish as both Red Bull cars retired with fuel pump issues.

Verstappen is 16 days older than Leclerc and the two began racing against each other in karts when they were just 12. Their relationship is just fine, Verstappen told The Associated Press on Thursday, debunking a report that Leclerc has “never forgiven” Verstappen for a 2019 incident in the Styrian Grand Prix.

The 24-year-old said he and Leclerc, 24, had a tense relationship when they were teens, but it is much improved now at the top level of motorsports.

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“I never speak about these things with other drivers,” Verstappen laughed in a video interview. “I mean, it happens. I’ve lost wins, as well, and it’s not the end of the world, you move on. I think Charles is one of the most talented drivers in Formula One, and he will win many more races.

“I think we are just good competitors and we like racing, I think you saw that when we were battling hard and it was all good.”

Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. led a 1-2 finish for Ferrari, the leader out of the gate as the top team this season. Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes snatched a third-place finish when Sergio Perez, Verstappen’s teammate, spun late and was also forced to retire.

Verstappen last year battled Hamilton wire-to-wire to win his first F1 title, and the Dutchman this season will seemingly have to contend with the much improved Ferrari duo.

The 2019 stemmed from Leclerc’s failed attempt to win his first F1 race. He’d started from the pole and led 58 of the 71 laps until Verstappen ran him off course with three laps remaining. Verstappen won and Leclerc finished second.

“I would say back in the day it was a little bit more difficult, but also (we) were very young and growing up and you are fighting for the same goal, right?” Verstappen said. “Now that you’re in Formula One, I think it is really different. You are representing really big brands. So we get on very well now. We can have a good chat and enjoy our battles, and I think that’s very nice.

“Knowing each other for such a long time helps. We’ve spent so much time together, in a way.”

Next up is Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. and Verstappen has seen firsthand that Ferrari will be in his way as he attempts to win back-to-back titles. His most pressing concern is that Red Bull has addressed the fuel pump issue that knocked him out in Bahrain with three laps remaining. He’d been running second to Leclerc and finished 19th, failing to score a single point.

Verstappen had just arrived at the track in Jeddah when he spoke to AP and had yet to be fully briefed on any findings from the fuel pump problem. He said he was relaxed and waved off speculation the Bahrain result had infuriated him.

Misguided perceptions of him caused Verstappen to refuse to participate in the Netflix “Drive to Survive” docuseries because he felt the program had shown him in a false light. The new season dropped ahead of the F1 opener, and Verstappen said he’s watched only the first two episodes and final two episodes of the program that chronicles last year and his battle with Hamilton for the title.

“You as a person, you are trying to build a brand, just by being myself. But then a series like that can just put you down completely different just because they like it like that and I think that is very wrong, and I prefer not to be a part of it,” Verstappen said.

He added that the Netflix portrayal of some drivers can be damaging as F1 is exposed to new fans.

“Not all, but quite a lot of things are wrong,” Verstappen said. “People get the wrong idea about a certain person of how they actually are, they don’t know because they are new to the sport and they just watch the series. My opinion is not going to change.”

So how does a new fan learn more about Verstappen, the son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen? The world champion said it is simple: “I think it’s better to meet me in person.”

“Anything you say, it’s difficult to explain, right?” he continued. “It’s better to show it. So I guess you just have to find out.”

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.