Max Verstappen prefers fighting ‘nice guy’ Charles Leclerc over Lewis Hamilton

Max Verstappen leads the Drivers' Championship by 80 points

Max Verstappen has enjoyed an incredible first half of the 2022 season, with the defence of his Drivers’ World Championship already looking 90-percent certain after taking an 80-point lead into the summer break.

Whilst everything is rosy for Verstappen looking ahead to the final nine races, the season certainly didn’t start in the way a title defence should.

Verstappen suffered two DNFs in the opening three races of the season, as Red Bull Racing suffered from a number of reliability problems.

It led to Verstappen ruling himself out of the title picture, until Red Bull solved their issues.

READ: Daniel Ricciardo says McLaren expected him to immediately ‘kick ass’

To give the Austrian team credit, they solved their problems rapidly, unlike title rivals Scuderia Ferrari.

Ferrari are yet to get on top of their power unit reliability, which has been poor to say the least.

Verstappen has gone on to win eight of the 13 races completed this season, with at least a handful more highly probable.

It’s seen the gap between Verstappen and Charles Leclerc grow to 80 points in the standings, something which has grown to the extent it has due to Verstappen’s dominance, but also Ferrari’s incompetence.

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The Italian team have gifted the Dutchman victory on a number of occasions this season, through their own strategic errors, with Leclerc usually being the victim of those.

When the pair have been able to battle on track, it’s been fair but equally exciting, with Verstappen admitting he “prefers” battling Leclerc this year than Sir Lewis Hamilton last year.

“I prefer what we have now because first of all, Charles, I know very well. He is a nice guy,” said Verstappen to Sky Italia.

“We are a similar age, I think we are only three weeks apart, and also I think we are fighting a very well respected competitor in terms of Ferrari.

“The way they go about [the battle], the way we are fighting – if they win a race, we can go to them and say ‘well done’ and if we win a race, they can come to us and say ‘well done’.

“I really respect that and also certain people within the team, and even Mattia [Binotto], I have a really good relationship with him.

“On Saturday night, we even had a laugh in Paul Ricard and that is great because that is what racing should be about. We are hard competitors on the track and 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.

“That’s what I have really enjoyed about this year.”

Following on from Verstappen explaining that he often joins Ferrari on some Saturday nights, the reigning World Champion was asked about his relationship and respect for the Mercedes F1 Team.

READ: Mick Schumacher reflects on fighting Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton

Red Bull and Mercedes came to blows countless times in 2021, something which still lives in the memory of both Verstappen and Hamilton.

“Let’s say it like this, I would not be on a table on Saturday night having a laugh [with Mercedes],” Verstappen added.

“The clique we have at the moment, just in general, I have a lot of respect for Ferrari and it is nice.”