Charles Leclerc admits he and Max Verstappen “hated each other” during their karting days.
The pair appear the fastest two drivers on the grid after the opening three races, although two DNFs from Verstappen mean Leclerc is already 46 points clear of him in the drivers’ standings. Instead, Mercedes’ George Russell is currently second in the individual battle, 34 points adrift.
Leclerc has won two races this season with Verstappen picking up his only points in his thrilling win in Saudi Arabia. The Dutchman would have been far closer to Leclerc had his Red Bull’s reliability not deserted him.
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The Monegasque driver is predicting a tight battle in 2022 as he reflected on their early rivalry.
"It is going to be very close. It has always been very close,” he said.
"In karting, it was either me or him and that's why we hated each other at one point because very often it didn't end in the best way possible."
Verstappen got the better of Lewis Hamilton in the title battle last season after controversial final-lap drama in Abu Dhabi, with the pair’s rivalry littered with incident and ill-feeling throughout the season.
"In which parts we are stronger or not (as drivers), I don't know," Leclerc said. "We just have two very different styles of driving. In some days one will win, in some the other will. But I like it."
Leclerc will become the first Ferrari driver to lead the championship at Imola since Michael Schumacher in 2004. The Emilia Romagna Grand Prix takes centre-stage this weekend.
"I am very excited," said Leclerc. "After the first three races, everything has gone our way and we seem to have a very strong car this year.
"I know in the past we have had so much support here, so to be here in that position I am pretty sure it is going to be special.
"But the most important this weekend is to not overdo things, which is easy whenever there is excitement and when things are going well. So we need to stay focused on our job and not try to do too much and hopefully it will be a positive weekend."
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