Former Red Bull driver Christian Klien has warned Max Verstappen that Charles Leclerc could be on par with him in terms of pure racing ability following his recent Grand Prix victories in Bahrain and Australia. The Ferrari man currently leads the Drivers’ Championship standings by 34 points and has emerged as the new favourite to claim the end-of-season honours after making a hugely impressive start to the new season.
Verstappen, on the other hand, has already been forced to retire from two races and now finds himself down in sixth place on the individual leaderboard with a total of just 25 points earned from his victory at last month’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. Klien has since insisted that Leclerc is more than capable of out-driving Verstappen over the course of the entire season after proving himself to be a match for the Dutchman in the opening three rounds of this year’s campaign.
“Leclerc already showed what he can do against Sebastian Vettel at Ferrari at the beginning of his career,” Klien told Servus TV, as quoted by Speedweek. “Okay, Carlos Sainz is also good, but now the car is good enough to win.
“Leclerc’s exceptional talent comes to the fore. It’s like Verstappen, he has that quality too. I think driving-wise, Leclerc is on a similar level as Verstappen, I’m thinking of the races in Bahrain or Jeddah.
“You can definitely see Charles is ripe to have a say in the title. Leclerc can now draw on his considerable lead in the World Championship standings, but there have been years in Formula One when big gaps have been closed.”
Leclerc has long been put forward as a potential future champion after impressing over the course of his junior career and his three seasons in F1 to date. However, he recently played down his chances of winning this year’s honours by insisting that it is too early to think about the possibility of clinching a maiden Drivers’ Championship title at the end of the current campaign.
“We are only at the third race,” Leclerc told reporters after winning last weekend’s Australian Grand Prix at a canter in Melbourne.
“For now, I don’t want to think about the championship, even though I can’t lie that it is nice to see where we are in the championship and for what we are fighting for. It feels amazing.
“I mean 34 points is crazy, but again, I really tried to take it out of my head, I don’t want to change my mindset. I think that the mindset of the team, and myself, at the moment, is exactly where it needs to be, and it needs to stay there.”