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

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.

VERSTAPPEN ON INDYCAR: F1 champ loves watching but will pass on ovals

“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.”

Jett Lawrence wins Hangtown Pro Motocross, remains perfect in 450s

Lawrence Hangtown Motocross
Align Media

Jett Lawrence remains perfect in the Pro Motocross series after recording another perfect round at Hangtown in Rancho Cordova, California. In his second start on a 450, Lawrence won his second National with his fourth consecutive moto win. It is getting increasingly difficult to find the right superlatives to describe the exploits on the reigning 250 West Supercross champion.

“The track was so brutal out there,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Jason Thomas. “The bike handles amazing even when it’s not too friendly. You had to be really patient; you couldn’t take too much. I didn’t eat enough before that second moto. I kind of lost energy halfway through, but luckily I could use technique and balance and just keep that flow going.”

Lawrence leaves Hangtown with an 18-point advantage over Ferrandis in the 450 Motocross standings, but perhaps more importantly, he climbed to 19th in the SuperMotocross standings and should he stay there, he has an automatic invitation to the Main events in the SMX Championship.

“On this track, you just have to manage,” Lawrence continued. “If you try to take too much and not respect the track, it will bite you very quickly. It was humbling on the first few laps. I got kicked on the cutout at the start of the third section, the tabletop going to the left. I had to get my focus because the boys were coming.”

Still in his first few races since returning from a concussion suffered at Houston in the Supercross series, Dylan Ferrandis finished second with results of third in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2. While Ferrandis was happy with the result, he remains hopeful that he will contend for victory shortly.

“The first moto was very hard for my physically, Ferrandis said. “I got arm pump and when you get arm pump your body gets tired. But I’m very happy because we made a big change for the second moto. We tried stuff every session today and in the last moto the bike was much better, but unfortunately I wasn’t sure what I could do with this bike because the track was very hard and difficult to pass.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Hangtown

With the rash of injuries at the end of the Supercross season, the podium was filled with heartwarming stories. Cooper Webb returned to action last week in Pala and failed to make the podium. He is steadily improving with a third-place finish in Hangtown. after finishing with a 4-2.

“It’s incredible what seven days can do,” Webb said. “Last week I felt like I was going to get lapped in the second moto. This week, I could see the leader. It was nice. I fought hard, learned how to suffer again there and that felt nice.

Moto 2 wasn’t pretty for Lawrence. On several occasions in the opening laps, he nearly high sided as he rode the front wheel through the ruts. The reward was worth the risk. By the halfway point, Lawrence had 4.5-second lead over Webb, who was embroiled in a tight three-rider battle for second with his teammate Aaron Plessinger pressuring him and Ferrandis ready to take advantage if those made contact.

It took 20 minutes for Plessinger to get around Webb and once he did, he trailed Lawrence by four seconds. But then, with three minutes remaining, Plessinger crashed and had difficulty restarting the bike, handing second back to Webb who has seven seconds behind Lawrence. Plessinger fell to fourth with results of third and sixth.

Adam Cianciarulo rounded out the top five with a 5-4.

Last week Hunter Lawrence won the overall with a 3-1. He repeated that feat in Hangtown in an exact replica of his Fox Raceway results last week. In Moto 1, Lawrence got off to a slow start and lost 10 seconds in the opening laps. Forced to overcome a sixth-place position in the race at the end of Lap 1, he once again caught the riders ahead of him when the field hit heavy traffic. For the second week, scored another 3-1 for the Hangtown National win.

“The start was crucial’ I knew I had to go,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “They laid a lot of water down, so I didn’t want to be behind any longer than [I was]. First hot one of the year, was a bit of a wakeup call, so I’m happy to get out of here safe and healthy.”

Lawrence’s third-place finish in Moto 1 featured a fierce battle for final spot on the podium when he caught Spain’s Guillem Farres and France’s Tom Vialle. With Lawrence hailing from Australia, the international nature of the sport was highlighted.

Lawrence left Hangtown with a 10-point advantage over Haiden Deegan in the Pro Motocross championship battle.

Click here for 250 overall results

Justin Cooper finished second in both motos to finish second overall. Hangtown represented a huge improvement from Fox Raceway where he finished fifth overall with a 5-4 finish in the two motos. Cooper pressured Haiden Deegan in the second half of Moto 1 and he earned the holeshot in the second moto and stayed within three seconds of Lawrence in that race.

“He was following me a little bit, checking out my lines, seeing where he was better,” Cooper said. “It’s disappointing to give up the lead like that but it was way better than last weekend. I will definitely take two seconds. I want to be on the top of the step. I feel like I get close to the top step but I never get it done. That’s building up the frustration – the fire. I really want to get one of these wins, so it’s time to start digging.”

Haiden Deegan earned the first holeshot of his career in Moto 1 and rode away from the field, building a four-second lead in the opening laps. Cooper trimmed the lead at the halfway point and for a while it leveled off at two seconds. Then Cooper made another charge with three to go and closed to within a second. Deegan was biding his time, however.

“I was saving a little. I knew at the end Justin was going to try and put a charge on. I let him get up close and then sent it super hard at the end to break him a little at the end.”

Deegan’s first moto win comes in only his fourth National and he remains perfect in regard to podiums this year.

“This was a dream since I was a little kid, to win,” Deegan said. “And in my fourth race, it’s gnarly. I was just sending it. I was getting a little tired at the end becasue I left my mouth open the whole time. It’s unreal; I’m so hyped. I wanted to win bad and I proved it to you guys.”

Chaos erupted in turn 1 in Moto 2 Jeremy Martin went and another rider ran over his arm. Michael Mosiman crashed further down the track on that same lap. Both riders were helped off course by the Alpinestars Medical team.

2023 Motocross Race Recaps

Fox Raceway: Jett Lawrence wins in first 450 start

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Chase Sexton is out for Hangtown
Enzo Lopes re-signs with Club MX for 2024
Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Pala
Results and points after Pala
Jett Lawrence wins Pala in his first MX start
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury