Charles Leclerc has shared an insight into how he fended off countless attacks from Max Verstappen in Bahrain GP, as Carlos Sainz adds on.
Ferrari’s Leclerc would ultimately go on to win the first Grand Prix of Formula 1’s all-new era of cars designed to be able to follow closer, encourage more spectacular overtakes and overall better racing, in Bahrain.
Both teams’ machinery were very evenly matched throughout the race which led to an intense, but fair, scrap between the pair when Verstappen found himself on the optimal strategy to make up a four second gap and attack the Ferrari.
Over the ensuing three laps the duo were side-by-side on multiple occasions as Leclerc cleverly retook the position at every try. The Monegasque reveals how he seemingly pulled off the same tactic “three times in a row”, with the charging Verstappen failing to grow wise of Leclerc’s defensive manoeuvres.
The Monegasque says it was somewhat “tricky” to keep the “on the limit” Verstappen at bay at times owing to the new-for-2022 cars which make it easier to follow. “I only followed into Turn 2, because I was always behind only for one corner and would get Max back into Turn 4, but it was tricky,” admitted Leclerc.
“It was nice though. It was on the limit, hard racing, but we always gave each other space, which was nice, and following him into Turn 2 was actually a bit more predictable than what I expected or what I had last year. So this was good. But it was always very close. I would always try and brake very early into Turn 1 to get the DRS for Turn 4 and it worked out three times in a row.
“So then I could keep my lead. And it was always also very tricky because I was struggling quite a lot with my energy and had to manage that too. But then after the third lap, I think I was in a better window with it and could push again and manage to have a bit of margin to manage my race,” summed up Leclerc.
Speaking on the late race safety car caused by Pierre Gasly’s suspected electrical failure, Leclerc was concerned about Red Bull’s opposite and more favourable strategy when the race was neutralised. Until then both he and Verstappen matched each other on strategy, but just before the safety car, the Dutchman pitted the third time.
Leclerc was a bit concerned but with the safety car, he could pit for the third time and retain his lead. “I think that [Red Bull] went for a three-stop strategy,” he said. “I felt quite nice at that point with my tyres, to go to the end, but obviously when I saw that they would pit, I was a bit concerned – and that’s why I made my thoughts clear to the team that maybe it will have been good to just cover him and stay in front and have our race a bit on the safer side.
“But after once we had to stay out, I just agreed. [My team] have so much more data than I do in the car. And if they were confident to do so, it gave me the confidence to also just get on with my work, and bring the car home at the end. I just wanted to make sure that they questioned all the scenarios before we took a decision,” summed up Leclerc, who also spoke on Ferrari’s initial idea of using new soft for him and used for Sainz.
The idea was to have split strategies in order to put pressure on Verstappen early on. Leclerc’s rival for the Bahrain victory, Verstappen, spoke of the disappointment of losing a “happy” second place after the “fun” battle. His Red Bull developed a terminal fuel pump issue in the closing stages after the safety car restart, which forced him to retire the car in the pit lane.
“The fight overall was good,” said Verstappen. “I think I didn’t have the balance but once I had three attempts more or less with the DRS, it was fun. I had a good battle with Charles, it was good fighting. Charles is a good racer as well, so it was good fun out there.”
Verstappen and Leclerc shared a moment in the paddock media pen post-race in fact, with the Dutchman congratulating the race winner and shaking hands. The Red Bull was a bit disappointed in losing the points, though, which can come handy later on.
“It is just disappointing, you always say to yourself and to the team as well, we have to score points, it doesn’t matter if it’s first or second in the first race,” said Verstappen. “You could see that at Turn 1 at the start, I didn’t risk too much, also when I was fighting with Charles, it was all clean and I was happy with a second place here.
“But to lose so many points for the team is also very disappointing, because for the championship where sometimes it can be really tight until the end, these are very important points,” summed up Verstappen.
With the Dutchman’s retirement, it helped Ferrari with a 1-2 finish but Sainz believed he could have given Verstappen a run for his money before the Red Bull slowed, but only if he’d have been able to keep in DRS range.
“I had a run at him into Turn 1 but [Red Bull] seem to have very good top speed, and I never really quite got ahead of him. But I gave it my best shot,” Sainz highlighted. “He defended very well to be fair, and then it was going to be tight because I was on the limit of the DRS zone.
“I think if I would have kept the DRS then I would have given him a run. And then he started facing the problems that we saw. And in that sense, I guess I could be lucky that I could pass him and then finish P2. But he has been driving very well all weekend so it’s tough to see.”
Here’s the Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen battle: https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/video.2022-bahrain-grand-prix-leclerc-and-verstappen-in-epic-scrap-for-race-lead.1727834306481295631.html
Here’s helmet view: https://twitter.com/F1/status/1505972061948325900?s=20&t=RHIH_B8rsISwNDtfQxjIcA
The story was written by Danny Herbert
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