Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc relay their F1 Saudi Arabian GP battle and how they tried to outsmart each other.

At the start of the F1 Saudi Arabian GP, it looked like Red Bull’s Sergio Perez had it under his control with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc a bit behind along with Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz. But his pit stop and subsequent safety car period changed the order.

It dropped Perez to fourth allowing Leclerc to the lead the Saudi Arabian GP from Verstappen. It thus ensued a fight until the end for the duo. It was almost a repeat of Bahrain, but this time the Dutchman managed to play it out smartly to secure the win.

The double DRS zones in the last part of the track initially helped Leclerc as he could get Verstappen back on the main straight. It even led to a bizarre locking-up moment by both in the final corner which set the Dutchman back by a couple of laps.

But he had time to regain life in his tyre and work out smartly to eventually pass Leclerc at the main straight and keep the lead. With the 2022 F1 cars allowing for a better following and the DRS becoming more powerful, it sure provided the spectacle.

“It was like qualifying laps, it was tough,” started Verstappen. “I didn’t really feel that happy on the medium. All the time, when you would get close to the car ahead the tyres would die. So there was not much racing going on there. So it was a little bit frustrating to just sit there and wait for the right lap to pit so you could go onto the other tyres, because as soon as we went on to the hard tyre I had a much better feeling.

“So then I of course tried to stay close with Charles after the safety car restart and, yeah, I was just trying to keep the gap more or less the same. And that was basically just trying to match the lap times, trying to get a bit closer, then he was pulling away a bit. I got a bit closer again. And yeah, then of course, we had the VSC at the end.

“And then it’s always a bit of a question mark, what’s going to happen after with the tyres, of course, because they cooled down a lot, but it seemed like we had quite a good first few laps on that restart. I had a good feeling with the car and the tyres were still only holding on quite well through the high speed.

“I then had a few good opportunities, but Charles really played it smart in the last corner. So it was not easy for me to actually get by. And of course I had to line myself up again to have another go at it. And eventually I had the go and I got ahead but then once I was ahead it was really like four laps flat out trying to stay ahead because Charles was consistently in my DRS. So yeah, it was quite tough out there,” summed up Verstappen.

The Dutchman noted it to be like fighting in karts but without touching. “In go-karting you can rub a bit with the sidepods and stuff. That’s unfortunately not possible anymore in Formula cars. But we have done that in the past. I think we are okay,” stated Verstappen.

On the other side, Leclerc agreed that it was tricky to hold off Verstappen considering how good the Red Bull was on straights. All his work in the corners was undone on the straights especially as the Dutchman was able to stay with him all-through the lap.

“I definitely enjoyed the fight,” stated Leclerc. “It’s obviously disappointing to lose the win so late in the race but it was a fun fight. It was very difficult because we had two cars that were in a very different place. I was very strong in the first sector, in all the corners, and basically much less strong in the straights. So it was very, very tricky.

“I tried to have the DRS in the last corner. It worked twice but it didn’t the last time and then obviously there was this yellow flag. I don’t know if we are speaking about the same yellow flag but I think the one where I could have had a chance to at least be alongside was the one into Turn 1 where I had no DRS there, so this was a little bit of a shame but it’s part of the game! We’ll try again next race,” summed up Leclerc.

Not only there was the DRS in the game, the safety car periods and even the Virtual Safety Car period played a key role in the tussle between the two. The VSC period, in fact, saw Verstappen be slightly closer to Leclerc by the time they re-started.

“For the VSC I mean, I don’t know,” stated Leclerc. “This is probably more a question for Max. And I’m pretty sure that if there is a way, he won’t say it now, in front of everyone. But yeah, I felt at one point that Max was closer, but actually, I think at the actual restart, I don’t think it was the case. But we’ll look into it anyway. And yeah, I knew that the strength of Max and the Red Bull in general, this weekend was the straight line speed.

“So I basically knew that if I was leaving Max with a DRS behind for the main straight, I will basically be overtaken very easily. So, I just wanted that, DRS, so on the first lap, I braked very early and I got the DRS and manage to overtake back on the run to Turn One. And then the second one, obviously Max knew that I was going to do that, so we both braked quite early, but I still managed to stay in front at the end. And the third time, it didn’t work out for me,” summed up Leclerc.

At the same time, Verstappen added: “To be honest, I was a little bit surprised myself that it did look a little bit closer, but I don’t know how close Charles was, of course to zero, you know, with the delta. That’s always a bit of a question mark. But also, sometimes it depends a bit where the restart is: if it’s in a corner for somebody in front or not. I think I was still on a bit more of the straight side and had a bit of a better run into Turn 4 as well.

“So, it’s a bit tricky. And yeah, I think, like Charles said, you always try to of course have a good run with the DRS into the final zone, where then you have a lot of fast corners where you cannot pass so, of course Charles played is very smart there, but also, it seemed like their defence/attack mode is very powerful. So, for me also, even more top speed. It was very hard to nail the overtake, but eventually it worked,” summed up Verstappen.

Regarding the cat and mouse fight, Verstappen noted that they have to adapt accordingly. In Bahrain, he went for it and lost out, but in Saudi Arabia he changed his strategy which helped him. Also, saving a bit of tyres worked out in his favour too.

“Every battle is different but yeah, well, it’s just smart racing and good racing, you know, so just have to deal with it, adjust to it,” said Verstappen. “And yeah, it was a lot of fun. It was not easy but a lot of fun. Regarding the tyre saving, I was just trying to stay with Charles without hurting the tyres too much because that was a bit my problem in the first stint, to see what would happen in the last 10 laps or 15 laps.

“And yeah, then of course, that VSC happens so the tyres also cooled down quite a bit. But then yeah, when I started to fully push, seemed like we had good pace. So that’s why I think I could actually push up to Charles a little bit. So yeah, a lot happier on the hard tyre in general with degradation,” summed up Verstappen.

Here’s the fight between the two:

Here’s the two appreciating each other:

Here’s Pierre Gasly on health issues