Leclerc, Verstappen pay tribute to Vettel after four-time world champion confirms retirement

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Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc has paid tribute to former team-mate Sebastian Vettel following the announcement that he will retire from Formula One at the end of the season.

Leclerc spent two years alongside Vettel at Ferrari and conceded he was starstruck when they first met, but now considers the four-time world champion to be a friend.

The youngster crashed during the French Grand Prix, and revealed Vettel messaged him to offer his support.

It will be a strange feeling for Leclerc to return in 2023 without Vettel in the paddock, where he has been an ever-present since making his F1 bow in 2007.

"I arrived the first year and I was obviously super impressed and I think I was probably very weird to him because I was shy and didn't know what to say when I was with him," Leclerc said ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

"But now he's a friend and he always texts me, like he did after Sunday, and always tried to make me feel better whenever I'm going through a tough time.

"Obviously it's going to be strange to not see Seb inside the paddock. I've learned so much driving with him and he’s always been super nice with me."

Vettel confirmed on Thursday that this would be his last season in F1 and, if everything goes to plan, the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi will be his 300th on the grid.

Defending champion Max Verstappen also hailed Vettel's impact and backed his decision to retire.

"He has achieved so much in this sport that it's fully understandable for him to retire," he told a news conference.

"He's had an amazing career, he's won a lot of races, he's won a lot of championships as well. He's a great ambassador [for] the sport.

"To see him go, it's something that you could see coming, everyone is getting older and at some point, everyone is retiring. It's never nice when that moment arrives but these things happen.

"I think it's important now that he's going to enjoy his life with his family as F1 is such a short period of time in your life, you work so hard to achieve all these things that he has achieved, now it's time to enjoy."

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