F1 commentator Peter Windsor believes Max Verstappen’s battle with Charles Leclerc at the start of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was every bit as thrilling as Verstappen’s matchup against Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone 2021.
Verstappen and Leclerc engaged in an exciting battle on the opening lap at Yas Marina, where the Ferrari driver took the fight to the pole-sitting Red Bull.
Leclerc appeared to have claimed the lead with an aggressive move into the chicane of Turns 6/7, but Verstappen held on around the outside to retain first place.
Max Verstappen battle likened to Lewis Hamilton 2021 clash
Verstappen went on to claim a 19th victory of 2023 by 18 seconds, ensuring Red Bull won all but one of the 22 races held this year.
Appearing via a recent YouTube stream, 1992 title-winning team manager Windsor likened the clash to the opening lap of the 2021 British Grand Prix, where Verstappen and Hamilton raced inches apart on the opening lap at Silverstone.
The battle ended in tears when the pair collided at the fearsome Copse corner, where Verstappen crashed hard into the barriers after Hamilton attempted a pass down the inside.
The incident sparked civil war between the Mercedes and Red Bull teams, with members of the Red Bull hierarchy calling for Hamilton to be banned after he overcame a 10-second time penalty to win his home race with Verstappen requiring hospital checks.
Asked if Leclerc could have stayed ahead of Verstappen throughout the opening stint in Abu Dhabi if he had taken the lead on the opening lap, Windsor said: “No, I don’t [think so].
“I think Max would have just sat there – he might have just let him lead the race until they got fairly near the pit-stop area – but I don’t think it would have changed anything.
“I think it just adds to the aggression of Max Verstappen. He didn’t need to do that, he was going to win that race. He could have passed Leclerc 10-15 laps into the race or in the pit stops, but he was out there racing wheel to wheel.
“That was as good a wheel-to-wheel [battle] as Max versus Lewis at Silverstone in 2021, I think – until they got to Copse of course!
“It was really impressive to watch. Really impressive how those were just inches apart, side by side.
“And Max didn’t need to do any of that really – but he did, because he’s a racer and he didn’t want to not lead that grand prix from start to finish if he could.
“Charles did all he could. They did look good on the mediums, but then don’t forget how relatively easily Max started to pull away from Leclerc – and we don’t know how much Max had in hand at that point. I would suspect at least a second, probably, when he was put on full tanks.
“I think Leclerc did all he could really – I was surprised he did that much actually. That pass at the end of the straight, on the left and on the dirt, was pretty good wasn’t it? Best moment of the race probably.”
It later emerged after the race that Verstappen’s eagerness to stay in first place came from his target to become the first driver in history to lead 1,000 laps in a single F1 season.
Verstappen ended 2023 with 1,003 laps led, obliterating former Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel’s record of 739 from 2011.