How Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc became competitive in karting

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It’s a rainy weekend at the Circuit de Karting du Val d’OrArgenton in France. The WSK Euro Series, a prestigious karting tournament, is here in the countryside between Nantes and Poitiers to complete the second round of the 2012 season. On Saturday, the qualifiers will determine the starting grid for Sunday’s match before the final, the outcome of which will form the grid for the final. Although the stakes aren’t quite as high yet, two KF2 drivers, the second-highest class for automatic transmissions, are putting up a big battle during a qualifying event. They both want to win at any cost. Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc will then be fourteen years old.

The two engage in a fierce duel for the lead when Leclerc ends up next to the track due to Verstappen. During the final round, Monegask will get a storyline. The two made contact again, and now the Dutchman is bouncing off the asphalt.

After the run-off, Verstappen and Leclerc park their wagons at Parc fermé for the technical inspection. Meanwhile, journalist Yanek Sterzel rushed out TKART Magazine and photographer Ronnie Ghazzi to the enclosed part of the excavation. When they got to the gate, Verstappen and Leclerc had just taken off their helmets. First they put Verstappen in front of the camera. It’s not fair, Verstappen says as he walks back to the paddock behind Jos’ sullen-looking father. I’m in the lead. He wants to pass me. He pushes me, I push him back. And then he pushed me off the track. It’s not fair, is it? Sterzel and Gezi rush back to Parc Ferme to also ask Leclerc what happened. He replies with an innocent look: Nothing. Just an accident during the race.

The video was posted to YouTube and went viral after the Austrian Grand Prix in 2019. Verstappen and Leclerc collide in the final stage of that race when Limburger holds off the Ferrari driver for the win. In 2022, the sub-two minute video will be collectively shown again and shared when it becomes clear after the first races that Verstappen and Leclerc may be fighting for the title. The counter passes two million views.

Senna versus Prost in karting?

Ten years after weekends at a remote go-kart track in the Loire Valley, we call Yanek Sterzel, who still TKART Karting reports. “It really surprised me that it was looked at so much,” Stierzel says. We actually ran into Parc Ferme with our cameras because we were curious about Jos Verstappen’s reaction, as he can be so violent. However, keep walking briskly. Then we decided to meet both drivers. At the time I didn’t know that they would make it to Formula 1 and that they would compete at the front.

It was already clear in 2012 that Verstappen and Leclerc had a good chance of reaching the pinnacle of motorsport. “But it can’t be said with certainty,” Stierzel emphasizes. In those years we saw a lot of good drivers go karting. For example, the previous year we saw Nick de Vries and Alexander Albon fight for the world championship. George Russell, Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris, Lance Stroll and Antoine Huppert, who unfortunately died in an accident in 2019 during the Formula 2 race at Spa-Francorchamps, also made progress in karting during that time. Obviously, all of these guys were fast and talented. But whether they would make it to Formula 1, it was impossible to draw an arrow. You must remember that they were only fourteen years old.

Leclerc was picked up after his first year in international karting by Nicholas Todt, the son of the former Ferrari team boss and former Grand PrixFIAPresident Jean Todt. At the time, the Frenchman represented the interests of Jules Bianchi, Leclerc’s godfather, and Felipe Massa with All Road Management. He was also one of the founders of the French racing team art Grand Prix, which expanded its activities to karting for 2012. Stirzel: So we knew there was a possibility that Charles could go to Formula 1. But Todd knew that if you weren’t fast enough in Formula cars after karting, he could end your career. So we knew that Charles was talented and he had the right people behind him, but whether he would make it to Formula 1 was not yet known. The same was indeed true for Max. He was very fast, but many in the field thought Joss was pushing him too much. They thought it might be over with Max after two or three years, because Joss put so much pressure on him. But Max turns out to be quite resistant. Joss made him very mature for his age.

“Gus thought you had to be fast on the spot and at all times,” Stierzel explains. “If you’re not, you don’t deserve a punch in the nose,” he says. “When you’re so young, you can collapse under that much pressure. It can make you nervous and even hate karting. But Max always managed to get good results even under pressure.” And he still does in Formula 1. In 2021, he competed for the world title for the first time, which is an exciting moment in the driver’s career, but he managed to beat Lewis Hamilton, the seven-time world champion.

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Race winner and 2021 F1 World Champion Max Verstappen of Red Bull Racing with his father, Jos Verstappen.

Photo: Getty Images/Red Bull Content Pool

Alternate driving in Formula 1 and the World Rally Championship

[…] In 2013, Verstappen’s last year in karting, he won a race CRGThe kart with the TM engine almost everything was to win. Become a champion WSK KZ2’s Masters Series In WSK Euro Series in KZ1, European Champion in KF and KZ, and World Champion in KZ. “That was absolutely amazing,” says Sturzel. Also because he drove the automatic kart one weekend and the manual kart the following weekend. That was an incredible feat. When I talk to experienced drivers, they always tell me how hard it is to switch from a manual kart to an automated kart and back, because it’s a completely different way to drive. According to them, you need to start learning all over again, as if you alternate between racing in Formula 1 and the World Rally Championship. Maybe this is a bit exaggerated, but it’s definitely different and definitely not easy. But Max acted as if it was the most natural thing in the world to go from one class to the next and win in both, while being only 15, a rookie in KF and KZ and up against Michael Schumachers in karting. I’ve never seen anything like it before.’

Stierzl remembers an interview that year with Verstappen. Max was a shy boy and never said much. He was always focused on improving the kart. I asked, “We all know that your father is quite strict with you. He pushes you all the time, and if you make a mistake, he scolds you. How do you view your relationship with your father?” There was silence for ten seconds, then he said: “Yes, it is true that he is strict. But…he’s always right. He was 15 then. This is the age most boys rebel against their parents. But the bond between Max and Gus was very strong. Gus can be very strict, but Max always managed to turn that into something positive instead of feeling pressured. .

Leclerc has had a very different career in karting than Verstappen. According to Sterzel, Monegask was nowhere to be found during his first year at the international level. Charles arrived less prepared in international karting than Verstappen. But towards the end of his time in karting he was very fast. In 2011, the first major successes came after Leclerc switched to Intrepid; Before that he drove Maranello Kart and Sodikart. That year he won, among other things, the CIK-FIA World Cup in KF3. In 2012, Leclerc really started. Become a champion in the KF2 class WSK Euro Series and second in the CIK-FIA European Championship. Charles was distinguished by constant development. He was never satisfied and was always looking for ways to move forward faster. If he had an idea that the opponent was a rapper, he wouldn’t rest until he knew how to defeat the other. Of course every driver wants to beat their competitors, but most of them hit a ceiling at some point and after that they can no longer improve themselves. However, Charles seems to have no such limit. Sterzel believes that at some point Leclerc will also be able to beat Max in Formula 1. “At the moment Max is still driving at a different level,” Sterzel admits. “But it might be like in karting. Charles has only been able to beat Max for the past two years. Apart from Ferrari, Charles will have to grow a bit more to get to Max’s level.

By the way, Sterzel believes that the karting rivalry between Verstappen and Leclerc should not be exaggerated too much. Sturzel: Many people who watched Val d’s videoArgenton from 2012 might have thought that at that time we had a battle in karting a la Ayrton Senna vs. Alain Prost in Formula 1. But karting is very different from Formula 1. Max and Charles had to compete against very experienced drivers, some of whom had She’s been competing for maybe ten years. You had Marco Ardigo, Ben Hanley, Paolo Di Conto…these are names most people wouldn’t say much, but they were the absolute firsts in karting at the time. Of course Max wanted to beat Charles and vice versa, but it was their hands that beat those guys first and foremost. So it’s not like we saw a fight between Max and Charles on weekend after weekend. They bump into each other on the track every now and then, like the day we shot this video.”

Retrospective exhibition with Armando Fellini, Team Manager art Grand Prix, Michel Vacirca, CRG Holland Team Principal, and of course all the other chapters related to the 2022 Formula 1 season and Max Verstappen’s title can be read in “A class apart”. Book it now and receive the book at the beginning of December!

Photo: CRG

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