Sport

Max Verstappen’s new Formula 1 rival is very familiar to him

MELBOURNE — Max Verstappen has enjoyed going wheel-to-wheel with his childhood rival Charles Leclerc of Monaco in the first two races of the Formula One season.

“It’s been really good, I’m enjoying the fights,” the Dutchman told The Post on Thursday ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.

Verstappen and Leclerc, both 24, began competing in karts at the age of 12. Fast forward to 2022 and both the Red Bulls ace and the Ferrari driver have a win each. Meanwhile, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is fighting for a Mercedes team that lacks the pace to challenge for victories.

“We have both [grown] as a driver and we both represent two big brands,” said Verstappen about his and Leclerc’s similar paths into the upper class of motorsport.

Verstappen and Leclerc hug at the Saudi Arabian F1 Grand Prix in March 2022
Verstappen and Leclerc hug at the Saudi Arabian F1 Grand Prix in March 2022
Getty Images

“But I think we’re definitely racing better now than before,” he said with a laugh of their youth struggles. “We used to both want to be Formula 1 drivers, now we’re both fighting at the top of Formula 1.”

With Leclerc leading the championship by 12 points going into the third race of the season, Verstappen insisted the “pressure is off” after beating 37-year-old Hamilton in a career-defining first world championship in December.

“I’m just being myself and just enjoying what I’m doing at the moment. The pressure is gone anyway,” said Verstappen.

Lewis Hamilton congratulates Verstappen on winning the Formula 1 World Championship in December 2021 in Abu Dhabi
Lewis Hamilton congratulates Verstappen on winning the Formula 1 World Championship in December 2021 in Abu Dhabi
Getty Images

“It still means a lot to me when I win races, like in Saudi for example, but it’s a different feeling before the race [race] Weekend.”

Historically European-focused, the sport has seen rapid growth in the US market in recent years, with viewership up 54 per cent over the past year and the 2022 season opener in Bahrain attracting more than a million viewers.

F1 owners Liberty Media have responded to the sport’s surge in popularity, which may be due in part to the Netflix series Drive To Survive, by adding races to the North American roster.

A second US race in Miami has been added to the 2022 calendar, with a third race taking place on the Las Vegas Strip in 2023. F1 has been racing in Austin, Texas since 2012.

Verstappen celebrates winning the Formula 1 World Championship in December 2021
Verstappen celebrates winning the Formula 1 World Championship in December 2021
Formula 1 via Getty Images

Although Verstappen said he hopes for some “good races” when F1 heads to Sin City, he is wary of the sport giving up historic circuits in favor of street circuits.

“I think it’s really cool that we’re driving on the strip [but] At the end of the day they also try to create some kind of show,” he said of the upcoming race, which will take place on a Saturday night.

“I think we still have to go to the old school tracks and put F1 cars where they belong. Especially with that [2022] Cars… they’re so low, they’re just not made for that [street circuits].”

The 2022 Australian Grand Prix will be held here on Sunday 10th April.

https://nypost.com/2022/04/07/max-verstappens-new-formula-1-rival-is-very-familiar-to-him/ Max Verstappen’s new Formula 1 rival is very familiar to him

JOE HERNANDEZ

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