Red Bull name their ‘strongest opponent’ ahead of Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc chatting on the press conference couch.

Charles Leclerc could the one driver who poses a threat to Max Verstappen winning in Jeddah.

Helmut Marko believes Charles Leclerc is the biggest threat to Max Verstappen winning the Saudi Arabian GP, and that George Russell could’ve been up there too were it not for his mistake in qualifying.

Verstappen will line up on pole position at the Jeddah circuit on Saturday as the reigning World Champion looks to continue his perfect start to the season.

Helmut Marko tips Charles Leclerc to challenge Red Bull

Last time out in Bahrain he clinched the win, racing from lights to flag, leading every lap and securing the fastest lap point.

He’ll be looking for another dominant display in Saudi Arabia where he is once again joined by Leclerc on the front row of the grid with Sergio Perez lining up in third place.

As for the Mercedes drivers, Russell is seventh after a mistake in qualifying while Lewis Hamilton, who said he lost confidence in the W15 in qualifying, is eighth.

“I still take Leclerc as our strongest opponent,” Marko said as per Motorsport.com.

“Russell was also quite good in the long run, but I think he made a mistake, he starts further back.

“Overtaking is difficult, it’s a one-stop strategy under normal circumstances, which means the start is crucial and then more or less home bring.”

Speaking to the media after qualifying, Verstappen was asked about the possibility of Leclerc attacking him at Turn 1 on the opening lap.

The Monegasque driver tried to do that last Saturday in Bahrain but Verstappen easily saw off the challenge.

“We’ll see what happens, right?” said the Dutchman. “I mean, it’s not where you win the race anyway nowadays. So, of course, you always try to have a good start, but it’s important to just get through lap one and settle in.

“Normally, we should have good race pace. And actually, of course, the degradation won’t be as high as in Bahrain. So, yeah, we’ll have to see how close everyone else is. But from our side, I think the car is set up well.”

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Leclerc it will be ‘difficult’ beating Verstappen

But given that Red Bull’s one-lap pace is the RB20’s weak point, if one can call it that, and Verstappen still clinched pole by a comfortable three-tenths, Leclerc is not liking his chances of beating Verstappen in the Grand Prix.

He will, however, give it his all.

“I’m always optimistic, so we’ll do our best,” said the five-time Grand Prix winner.

“But we know that they usually have the upper hand and have a little more pace in the race than in qualifying. And if you look at the gaps [in qualifying], it’s going to be difficult to get to the top.

“But as always, I’ll give it my all.”

As for his new team-mate, Oliver Bearman replacing Carlos Sainz for the race after the Spaniard underwent surgery for appendicitis, he’ll start the race just outside of the points in 11th place.

Patience and points are his goal for Saturday’s race.

“Exactly,” he said when that was put to him. “That’s my goal. No mistakes and build it up. Get to the end, avoid any carnage, and build up some experience in myself. And hopefully, bring back some points at the end.

“It’s a big step from F2 in terms of physicality. But I always feel prepared to make my debut – that’s what I’ve been training for, in case this F1 opportunity comes up, and it finally has. So hopefully I can make it stick and do a good job.”

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