Verstappen had to play ‘smart tricks’ with Leclerc

Jon Wilde
Max Verstappen ahead of Charles Leclerc during the Saudi Arabian GP. Jeddah March 2022.

Max Verstappen said he had resorted to “smart tricks” in his pulsating duel for victory with Charles Leclerc at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The World Champion ultimately took the chequered flag half a second ahead of Ferrari’s Leclerc to get his title defence up and running after having to retire when running second late in the Bahrain season opener.

A week ago, the former boyhood karting rivals had waged a thrilling battle for the lead which eventually went Leclerc’s way, and again they went wheel-to-wheel over several laps with a bout of hard but fair racing.

However, just like in Bahrain, it was about knowing when to be savvy in terms of picking up DRS, staying narrowly behind the opponent at the detection point to gain an advantage for an overtaking opportunity.

This was what Verstappen, in his post-race parc ferme interview, referred to as “smart tricks”.

“It was a really tough but good race,” said the Dutchman, who had started fourth on the grid behind his pole-sitting Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez, the victim strategy-wise of a Safety Car in the first half of the race to end up finishing fourth.

“We were battling hard at the front and we (Red Bull) just tried to play the long game.

“They (Ferrari) were really quick through corners, we were quick on the straight, but the tyres were wearing out quite quick around here.

“You could see at the end we had a bit more pace, so I just tried to get by. It wasn’t easy, playing smart tricks in the last corner, but eventually I managed to get ahead.”

 

Even when Verstappen did finally make a move for the lead stick on lap 47 of 50, Leclerc’s challenge did not go away and there was also the variable of yellow flags being waved in the closing stages after Alex Albon had pulled over following a collision with Lance Stroll.

“Even after that, he was constantly in the DRS and then with the yellow flags on the last lap, just knowing how much you should lift, whether it was allowed or not, it was tough,” said Verstappen, who also gave an insight into racing with the new 2022 cars rather than last year’s models.

“It seems like once you get quite close, because when the cars get within half a second you can actually have a good exit. I think that makes it a lot more tricky to actually do the pass in the last corner compared to last year, so it’s a lot harder to plan your pass.

“But I’m really happy we finally kick-started the season.”