Max Verstappen says he 'prefers' F1 rivalry with Charles Leclerc to battle with Lewis Hamilton
Max Verstappen controversially beat Lewis Hamilton to the 2021 World Championship after a season-long battle; Charles Leclerc is Verstappen's nearest challenger this season; Watch Practice Three and Hungarian GP Qualifying live on Sky Sports F1 from 11:45am on Saturday
Last Updated: 30/07/22 11:34am
Max Verstappen says he "prefers" his rivalry with Ferrari and Charles Leclerc to the World Championship battle he had with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes last season.
Red Bull's Verstappen emerged victorious over Hamilton after a controversial end to an intense season-long battle between them, which saw several flashpoints both on and off the track.
With Mercedes off the pace this season, Ferrari's Charles Leclerc has emerged as the biggest threat to 24-year-old Verstappen retaining his title, with the pair having engaged in several wheel-to-wheel contests during the first half of the season.
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Unlike last season, there has been little to no evidence of bad feeling between Ferrari and Red Bull, although the 63-point lead Verstappen has opened up ahead of this weekend's Hungarian GP has perhaps helped to diffuse the early-season tension that was building between the teams and drivers.
Speaking to Sky Italy, Verstappen said: "I prefer what we have now because, first of all, Charles I know very well, he's a nice guy, we are a similar age - I think we are only three weeks apart.
"I think also we are fighting a very well-respected competitor in terms of Ferrari. The way they go about the way we are fighting… when they win a race we can go to them and say well done, and when we win a race they can say well done, and I really respect that."
Verstappen pointed to a specific example of the camaraderie between the Red Bull and Ferrari camps, explaining that he had experienced an enjoyable exchange with the Italian team's principal, Mattia Binotto, during dinner on Saturday night at last weekend's French GP.
"Also, certain people within the team, even Mattia, I have a really good relationship with him," Verstappen said.
"On Saturday night, we even had a laugh in Paul Ricard, and I think that's great because that's what racing should be about. We are hard competitors on the track and we will always try to beat each other, which I think is very normal, but outside of it you can have a good time as well, and that's what I really enjoy about this year.
"Let's say it like this, I would not be on a table on Saturday night having a laugh with (Mercedes)."
Asked why it was so different to last year's situation, Verstappen added: "Just the click we have at the moment with the team, and I have a lot of respect for Ferrari in general."
Herbert 'perplexed' by Verstappen comments
Sky Sports F1's Johnny Herbert said that the way Verstappen had dismissed seven-time world champion Hamilton was "disappointing".
"(It was) disappointing actually in many respects," Herbert said.
"He seems to sort of just dismissed Lewis straight away, and then he was straight onto Charles and Ferrari the battle they're having.
"I thought he was enjoying the battle they were having on track (last season), but clearly there, he wasn't enjoying it at all.
"But I don't understand why his comments would be so negative towards Lewis and the battle that they had last year. I'm quite perplexed."
'It's not about Verstappen wanting to drive for Ferrari'
Sky Sports F1's Karun Chandhok dismissed the suggestion that Verstappen's comments may have reflected a desire to drive for Ferrari at some point in the future.
"I don't think it's about that," Chandhok said. "I don't think he's thinking of that even. He's just thinking of the fact he's having a respectful battle with his competitors, and they're battling hard on track but they respect each other off it.
"I think he's being truthful, isn't he? He's enjoying the battle this year, he's relishing the on-track battle.
"He's racing wheel-to-wheel differently with Charles as he did to Lewis. As he rightly said, he and Charles have known each other a long time, they've grown up together, they're of the same generation.
"Honestly, it's his personal feeling. We're all not friends with the whole wide world. You get along with certain people, you have a relationship and a bond with certain people and you create a mutual respect out of friendship with certain people.
"I don't think it's wrong that he is closer friends with people at Ferrari or with Charles than he is with Lewis or people at Mercedes. That's just their personalities and their characters."