Max Verstappen has admitted he is enjoying the championship battle he is having with Charles Leclerc and Ferrari this season much greater than his bitter rivalry with Lewis Hamilton last term.
Verstappen and Leclerc have had many head-to-head charges this term that have excited fans and leave the current world champion 63 points in front heading into this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.
But although their racing has been close and wheel-to-wheel on many occasions, the relationship between this season’s title challengers has publicly at least always looked highly respectful.
That was unlike the battles Verstappen endured with Hamilton last term, where on-track scraps, most notably at Silverstone, Italy, Brazil and Saudi Arabia caused ill-feeling between their respective Red Bull and Mercedes teams that led to the controversial last lap pass that enabled the Dutchman to pip his rival to the title in Abu Dhabi.
But while there was plenty of bad blood between the teams, Verstappen insists his healthier relationship with Leclerc and Ferrari on a sporting level has made this season much more enjoyable.
‘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,’ he told Sky Italy.
‘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.’
Max Verstappen also insisted that his relationship with Ferrari is far greater than the one he has with Mercedes, claiming he has more respect for the Maranello outfit.
‘Also, certain people within the team, even Mattia, I have a really good relationship with him,’ he added.
‘On Saturday night, we even had a laugh in Paul Ricard [after French Grand Prix qualifying], 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).’
‘[It’s] just the click we have at the moment with the team, and I have a lot of respect for Ferrari in general.’