The two shared a titanic battle in Bahrain at the season opener, as they traded two race wins each across the opening four races.
Since that fourth race, however, Verstappen has completely dropped his rival in the Ferrari. Verstappen's Red Bull now looks comfortably the best car on the grid, and Leclerc and his rivals are not only falling behind, but being left in the dust.
On a weekend when hard-fought victory at the Canadian Grand Prix put him ahead of the great Jim Clark and Niki Lauda in the all-time table of most F1 race wins, Max Verstappen is now showing the consistency and ruthlessness that his rivals would have been fearing off the back of his 2021 title win.
Canadian F1 GP: Max Verstappen shifts up another gear
It says a lot about how far ahead Red Bull have raced in the championship that Max Verstappen is now further ahead of Charles Leclerc than Leclerc is ahead of the Mercedes of George Russell.
Leclerc started the season with two poles and two wins from the first three races. Since then, Verstappen has won five to Leclerc's zero.
It is an alarming turnaround for Ferrari, and one that can be put down in part to the regularly inept strategy decisions made by their pit crew, as well as their reliability issues.
But it can't all be put down to that, and it would be unfair to the excellent form of Max Verstappen to attribute his dominance to Ferrari's struggles. Leclerc and Verstappen have now had the same amount of retirements due to car issues, and Verstappen is still almost 50 points ahead of the Ferrari man.
We've seen from this season how quickly things can turn around, but this swing doesn't feel like it's all down to bad luck for Ferrari. The simple matter is that Max Verstappen is driving at the highest level of his career to this point. On a weekend when he and his Red Bull team felt that Ferrari had the faster race pace, he produced an assured drive under pressure to take a sixth win of the season.
Max Verstappen thinks the Ferrari had more pace than Red Bull in today's Canadian Grand Prix 🇨🇦 pic.twitter.com/g62lkt2Yw1
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) June 19, 2022
This author wrote something similar after Miami last month, but Verstappen is now driving at an imperious level not seen since Lewis Hamilton's end to the 2020 season - and a level not seen in a Red Bull since Sebastian Vettel's nine consecutive wins in 2013.
Vettel's record number of race wins in a row felt unmatchable ahead of this season, but Verstappen has now won five of the last six, each in more dominant fashion than the last. If he continues driving at this level, it's hard to see anyone stopping him.
This weekend's race in Canada was perhaps the most impressive yet. Verstappen was flawless in a wet qualifying (he is quickly catching up to Hamilton in terms of being the best wet weather driver on the grid), before holding off sustained pressure from the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz in the closing laps to take a narrow victory.
ICYMI: Relive the best moments from Montreal with the Canadian Grand Prix Bitesize Highlights 🇨🇦 👇 pic.twitter.com/4hMjOztZnF
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) June 20, 2022
Let's acknowledge that the Red Bull is pound-for-pound the best car on the grid. Let's also acknowledge that Verstappen's teammate Sergio Perez is also having an outstanding season alongside him, despite a poor weekend in Canada.
All that being said, Verstappen still sits 46 points ahead of his Mexican teammate in the standings. It is a credit to Red Bull that their car has gotten both drivers ahead of the very fast Ferrari - it is an even bigger credit to Verstappen that he is so far ahead of Perez.
Canada will have scared Max Verstappen's rivals in a manner that a dominant win may not have.
Verstappen has now won a race in just about every manner possible this year. He made a late and dramatic pass for the lead in Saudi Arabia, he dominated the entire weekend in Imola and won at a canter, snatched the lead early on in Miami, capitalised on some Ferrari misfortune in Barcelona and Baku, and has now held off a strong late charge and been imperious in defence in Montreal.
It's getting harder and harder for Verstappen's rivals to find ways to beat him, thanks to the Dutchman's pace and the simply brilliant car Red Bull have given him (when it gets to the finish).
This is a Max Verstappen we spent the best part of five years waiting for, and he has been this good for about a year now. His incredible run of form in mid-2021 began around this time last year, and it is a credit to the 2021 champion that he appears to be driving even better than he was last season.
The improved form of Carlos Sainz in recent weeks will be some comfort to Ferrari, but it's hard to imagine that Charles Leclerc will find comfort in how far ahead Verstappen has flown in recent weeks.
It now reads: Max six race wins, Charles two. This is fast becoming a coronation rather than a title battle, and Ferrari need things to swing fast if they are to get their main man back in the fight.
Montreal was the closest they have come to beating Max Verstappen since Miami. If they couldn't do it here, you fear that it may not happen again anytime soon.
Wrapping up from the Canadian Grand Prix
|1st||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing-RBPT||175||6 (+1 sprint win)|
|2nd||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing-RBPT||129||1|
|3rd||Charles Leclerc||Scuderia Ferrari||126||2|
|4th||George Russell||Mercedes AMG F1||111||0|
|5th||Carlos Sainz Jr||Scuderia Ferrari||102||0|
- Driver of the day: It looked initially like it would be another grim weekend for Mercedes, but Lewis Hamilton put in a brilliant qualifying and race performance to finally take a second podium of the season. He even briefly looked as though he could challenge for the win - nonetheless, the performance will be heartening after their recent struggles.
- Day to forget: What does Mick Schumacher need to do to catch a break? He has admittedly made some big mistakes this year but, when he finally seemed on the verge of not only a first points finish but a decent haul of them at that, his Haas gave up on him and he retired early on. A tough weekend for the German.
- The big question ahead of round #10: What will Silverstone bring for home favourite Hamilton? The British Grand Prix is famously one of the Brit's best tracks, and he appears to be rejuvenated after a great performance in Montreal. It will be fascinating to see if he can manage to get ahead of the Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz. Both Toto Wolff and Christian Horner hinted after the race that they think Mercedes will be in contention at Silverstone, but it will be a big ask.