Verstappen wins exciting battle with Leclerc

The defending world champion Max Verstappen scored his first win of the 2022 season following a thrilling battle with Charles Leclerc in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

The Red Bull Racing driver grabbed the spoils by just half a second after a DRS-enhanced slipstreaming duel with Leclerc in the second half of the contest on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, after the Ferrari driver tried again to tactically outmanoeuvre Verstappen on track.

But the 2021 champion held on for victory as Ferrari scored a double podium, Carlos Sainz completing the rostrum while an mistimed pitstop dropped polesitter Sergio Perez to fourth position.

The Red Bulls appeared to enjoy the stronger start as Perez pulled over to cover second-starting Leclerc into Turn 1 but was largely unchallenged as Verstappen provided stiff competition to Sainz.

As Sainz had to keep conservative to miss the rear of his teammate at the first left-hander, Verstappen was able to tip-toe around the outside as the track snaked back for Turn 2.

Verstappen out dragged the Ferrari to take third position, while Perez escaped to an early 1.3 seconds lead over Leclerc in the opening two laps with Verstappen the same interval back again.

Attention swiftly turned to a frenetic multi-lap scrap between the Alpines, arriving after George Russell had made an early move on Ocon to take fifth place in the Mercedes.

Ocon pulled to the inside down the main straight and appeared to squeeze a DRS-assisted Fernando Alonso against the pit wall, forcing the double-champion to back out of the lap-five move.

The following lap, Alonso tried again but was further back and had to abort a possible manoeuvre around the outside of Turn 1 before the squabble continued next time around.

Alonso was eventually able to nip past but only briefly, as Ocon recovered sixth with DRS into Turn 1 but ran across the run-off and missed the apex and had to give back the position.

The Alpine teammates were then told to hold position, with Alonso ahead of Ocon.

Perez had been able to extract a lead of over two seconds against Leclerc, with Verstappen 1.5 seconds behind the Ferrari driver while Sainz was a further 3.1 seconds in arrears.

Then the lead dipped below 1.5 seconds to prompt Perez to dive for the pits on lap 15 for a set of the C2 hard compound, but a sluggish stop and cold tyres brought him out behind Russell in fifth position.

The race win appeared to then slip away from Checo as double waved yellows grew into a virtual then full safety car owing to the end of a difficult weekend for Nicholas Latifi.

After shunting in Q1, the Williams again crashed out on lap 16 when he jumped on the power too early exiting the final corner, Turn 27, and over corrected to head towards the wall.

Although Latifi locked all four corners as he jumped on the brakes, he still hit the barrier.

That interruption allowed the leaders to pit in neutralised conditions to leapfrog Perez, with Leclerc taking the lead from Verstappen, who narrowly avoided Sainz in the pit lane.

Sainz then had a run in with the next Red Bull as Perez, delayed behind Russell on his out-lap, nipped past at the safety car line as Sainz was squeezed against the Turn 2 wall.

At the restart, Verstappen attempted to put Leclerc off-line at the final corner but the Ferrari driver could break the tow to lead unchallenged and build an initial advantage of 2 seconds.

Perez was instructed to hand back the position only after the resumption to slip to fourth ahead of Russell, while Lewis Hamilton stayed put on his hard tyres to climb to sixth.

But only after an engaging battle with Kevin Magnussen that was resolved when the Mercedes driver dived for position into Turn 1, the Haas have repassed in similar circumstances on the previous lap thanks to the double DRS effect on the main straight.

Verstappen, meanwhile, began to respond to Leclerc’s blistering sector one times with a string of fastest laps to reel the Ferrari driver in and cut the gap to under 1.5 seconds.

A second virtual safety car was called into play to press pause on the action on lap 38 when Alonso, Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo effectively retired in tandem.

The Alpine was the first to expire as Alonso suffered a total power loss and dropped out of seventh place, though did recover to the pitlane.

Ricciardo’s McLaren gave up the ghost at the start of the main straight after he locked up into Turn 27 and then never got the MCL36 going again.

While Bottas was able to return to the pits and be wheeled into the Alfa Romeo garage, the location of the Ricciardo and Alonso cars meant the pit lane was closed to hurt Hamilton most of all.

Still on his starting set of hard tyres, he received the call to stop too late and had to stay put until racing conditions return on lap 41, and Hamilton immediately pitted for medium tyres.

Verstappen now only sat 0.6 seconds off Leclerc as he chased his first win of the 2022 season after his RB18 retried with a fuel vacuum issue in Bahrain.

With a tow down the main straight, Leclerc was forced to pull to the inside and defend on lap 42 of 50 but Verstappen thought against an attempted lunge.

The Red Bull instead saved the fight for position until Turn 27, at which point Leclerc repeated his Sakhir strategy by checking his pace over the DRS detection zone.

So, while Verstappen had track position, Leclerc was backed up by the overtaking aid and defended his regained lead into Turn 1.

Verstappen was poised for a similar lunge next time around but as he sought DRS, locked up over the detection line and fell back to hand Leclerc position and marginal breathing space.

The battle, though, appeared to take its toll on Leclerc’s rear tyres and on lap 47, the Ferrari oversteered out of the final corner to allow Verstappen to successfully get the run for first place.

Leclerc was forced to abort Turn 2 as a result, teeing up a last-lap showdown. While Leclerc could close to within 0.5 seconds, Verstappen hung on to a sensational win.

Sainz was seven seconds further behind Leclerc, as Perez completed the top four over a subdued race by Russell. Ocon, meanwhile, bagged sixth ahead of Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly.

Magnussen, who entered the race with neck pain after tweaking it in qualifying, was ninth as Hamilton hung on for the final point in tenth.

Despite drive through penalty for not serving a 5s pitstop penalty plus the latest clutch and anti-stall issues for Zhou Guanyu, the rookie returned 11th as the Aston Martins of Nico Hulkenberg and Lance Stroll completed the finishers.

Stroll was able to limp over the line after a late Turn 1 coming together with Alex Albon, that ended the Williams’ drivers race a touch early and introduced a yellow flag at Turn 1 during the final stages of the Verstappen-Leclerc duel.

Yuki Tsunoda, who was unable to set a qualifying lap following a water system issue, then pulled up in sector one aboard his AlphaTauri on his way to the grid with an engine issue.

That, combined with Haas electing not to start Mick Schumacher’s car to avoid rushed repairs after the German’s huge Q2 shunt, created a scenario in which only 18 cars started.

So congratulations to the world champion in winning the battle from Charles Leclerc. This race victory was crucial for Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing after last weekend’s non-finish. As for the duel between the Red Bull and Ferrari, this is such a highlight. More please!

Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:24:19.293
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 0.549
3 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 8.097
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull 10.800
5 George Russell Mercedes 32.732
6 Esteban Ocon Alpine 56.017
7 Lando Norris McLaren 56.124
8 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 62.946
9 Kevin Magnussen Haas 64.308
10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 73.948
11 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 82.215
12 Nico Hulkenberg Aston Martin 91.742s
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin +1 lap
14 Alex Albon Williams DNF
– Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo DNF
– Fernando Alonso Alpine DNF
– Daniel Ricciardo McLaren DNF
– Nicholas Latifi Williams DNF
– Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri DNF

2 thoughts to “Verstappen wins exciting battle with Leclerc”

  1. Race review as reported by

    Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won an epic battle over Charles Leclerc in Saudi Arabia with Carlos Sainz completing the podium behind his Ferrari team mate – as pole-sitter Sergio Perez had to settle for fourth after pitting just before a pivotal Safety Car.

    Perez led until Lap 16, when a flash of Ferrari mechanics perhaps triggered Red Bull into an early pit stop. That proved to be unfortunate; Williams’ Nicholas Latifi crashed at the final corner on the next lap and triggered a VSC then Safety Car, with Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz capitalising.

    The Mexican was set to restart third on Lap 21 when the Safety Car retreated but was found to have passed Sainz as the Spaniard exited the pits alongside the Red Bull during the caution period, leaving the pole-sitter fourth.

    Another VSC emerged on Lap 38 when McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo crawled to a halt at the pit exit, Alpine’s Fernando Alonso slowing with a problem a lap earlier – and then stopping around the same place as Ricciardo. When the VSC finished on Lap 41, Verstappen was within a second of leader Leclerc – and now came round two of their brilliant 2022 rivalry.

    With DRS, the Dutchman took the lead on the back straight on Lap 42, but Leclerc came back with DRS and held onto the lead. Again on Lap 43, Verstappen attempted a move but locked up in unison with the Ferrari into the final corner, the Ferrari keeping P1.

    A brief lull followed and at the start of Lap 47, before Verstappen made sure he had DRS and prised the lead off Leclerc, the championship leader unable to close him off this time.

    Leclerc put in the fastest lap with a second wind in the closing staged – but Verstappen narrowly kept him at bay, shrugging off the scare of a late Sector 1 yellow flag (for a Lance Stroll-Alex Albon coming-together) to win by just 0.549s.

    George Russell took P5 at Esteban Ocon’s expense, the Alpine driver having lost out to the Mercedes on Lap 3 and then battled with his team mate Alonso (DNF) in an exciting early-race battle. Ocon, out-dragged here for P3 in 2021, kept McLaren’s Lando Norris at bay by a tenth of a second on the line in a drag race for P6.

    Pierre Gasly made up one place to P8 for AlphaTauri, with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen ninth from 10th on the grid, and Lewis Hamilton – who was unfortunate not to be able to pit during the second VSC – taking the final point from his P15 start for Mercedes.

    Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu missed out on a second consecutive points finish, receiving two penalties, the first for cutting a corner in an early scrap with Albon and the second for failing to serve that penalty correctly when he pitted.

    Stroll, Albon, Valtteri Bottas, Alonso and Ricciardo, were the five drivers not to make the flag.

    Neither Mick Schumacher, who crashed out of qualifying, nor Yuki Tsunoda, whose AlphaTauri stopped with a technical issue on his lap to the grid, started the race.

    The second-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was never going to be a straightforward affair, given the tight confines and high speeds of this demanding new city circuit. After Mick Schumacher’s 33G qualifying crash, the paddock was relieved to have him back – even if he wouldn’t be able to take part in the Grand Prix.

    Yuki Tsunoda, who missed out on qualifying and was set to start 19th, stopped on his laps to the grid with a suspected drivetrain issue and climbed out to prematurely end his participation.

    So, 18 cars lined up on the grid, Sergio Perez on pole position for the first time ahead of Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz (an electrical part in his car, thought to be a wiring loom, needing replacing pre-race) and Max Verstappen sharing the second row, and Esteban Ocon leading George Russell off the third row.

    For the Scuderia, a lack of long-run practice over the weekend had them racing into unknown territory. Kevin Magnussen (P10), Lewis Hamilton (P15) and Nico Hulkenberg (P17) were the only three drivers to begin on hard tyres, the rest on mediums.

    Lights out at 2000 local time, and round two of the bout between Red Bull and Ferrari was under way. Perez led Leclerc off the line, Verstappen scything ahead of Sainz for P3 out of Turn 2 – while Ocon kept Russell behind until a final corner bout going into Lap 3.

    Further back, Kevin Magnussen took P9 off Pierre Gasly, who then lost another place to Lando Norris, and Zhou Guanyu fell to 17th ahead of only Nicholas Latifi, with Lewis Hamilton up to 14th – but complaining of “no grip” on his hard compound. Ocon had a dicey moment on the main straight, almost forcing team mate Fernando Alonso into the barriers at the start of Lap 5.

    That triggered an intra-team battle for P6 between the Alpines, Alonso raring to get by while the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix winner put his elbows out until the start of Lap 7, when he finally conceded out of Turn 2. Ocon came back at the start of Lap 8, passing Alonso off-track and giving the place back – allowing Valtteri Bottas and Kevin Magnussen to join the train from P9-P6, Bottas eventually making it to P7 when Ocon was told to back off his team mate.

    Sainz, meanwhile, began to lose touch with the top three, Perez building a gap in the lead, while Verstappen stayed steady in third as he lurked in Leclerc’s wake. Who would trigger the undercut and pry open the pit window?

    Despite the sea of red in the pits, Red Bull took the plunge first on Lap 16 and put Perez in to box – changing from mediums to hards – with the Mexican emerging fifth behind Russell. Fortune was not on Perez’s side as Nicholas Latifi, in P18, then crashed exiting the final corner and brought out a Virtual Safety Car – triggering rivals to pit. The Safety Car soon emerged, Leclerc leading Verstappen, Perez, Sainz and Russell in the train.

    Hamilton had made a steady climb, taking P12 off Stroll on Lap 10 and then P11 off Norris, with Gasly next as he made it into the points by Lap 15 without much trouble. The seven-time champion did not pit during the Safety Car, promoting him to seventh behind Magnussen (also declining to pit then) for the restart – which took place on Lap 21 – with everyone now on the hard compound.

    On Lap 21, Safety Car in, Leclerc crawled out of the final corner then sped away from Verstappen while Perez conceded P3 to Sainz to avoid a penalty, the Mexican having illegally passed a Sainz (who was exiting the pits) during the caution period.

    Hamilton tried to take P6 off Magnussen at the final corner at the start of Lap 24 but the Haas driver retook the place with DRS, and with ease. The Briton didn’t make the same mistake next time around, retaining DRS to pass Magnussen into Turn 1.

    Back at the front, Leclerc was just out of DRS range as the ticker neared Lap 30 of 50 but Verstappen began to turn up the pace – the Ferrari driver responding with his own turn of speed to keep the top four as they were since the restart.

    Magnussen still hadn’t pitted on Lap 35, and lost P7 to Alonso as a result, but soon after that pass the Alpine driver slowed. Had his car sprung an issue? “No power,” answered his radio message, as an instruction to “cool the car” was delivered on the dashboard.

    Immediately after Alonso’s issue became apparent, Ricciardo was next to come a cropper, the McLaren driver crawling to a halt right at the pit entrance – then Bottas was hauled into the pits with a problem for Alfa Romeo. The resulting VSC thrust Norris and Gasly into the top 10 and prompted hard-tyred starters Magnussen and Hulkenberg to pit. Hamilton too was called in but the call came too late; Alonso prompted the pit lane to be closed as he too crawled to a halt at the entrance.

    “Are we in trouble or not?” asked Hamilton, circulating in P6 on Lap 39. He had a 13-second advantage on Ocon but couldn’t capitalise on that with the pit lane closed. The VSC ended on Lap 41, Hamilton coming in right afterwards for a new set of mediums – with a slow stop – to emerge 12th.

    Verstappen did pounce under VSC, his hard compounds right in the window, and the Dutchman closing to within a second of Leclerc when Lap 41 began – and taking the lead on the back straight. But Leclerc hit back, going deep into Turn 1 with DRS and holding on to the lead of the race – the pair continuing their battle from Bahrain.

    With DRS again on Lap 43, Verstappen attempted another move for the lead but this time locked up in unison with the Ferrari going into the final hairpin. The champion was convinced that Leclerc had crossed the pit lane entry line coming out of that corner but was swiftly told to “calm down” on the radio. Leclerc had the measure of Verstappen so far. Behind, Perez was closing in on Sainz.

    The battle for the lead continued after a very brief lull, tyres and drivers at their limit. On the start of Lap 47, Verstappen closed in once again and this time made sure he had DRS and a good run into Turn 1. Leclerc couldn’t close him off this time and now the hunted had become the hunter.

    Leclerc put in fastest lap and was soon right on the Red Bull’s tail and, even though a collision between Stroll and Albon had triggered a double yellow flag, continued to track him down. They were pushing hard, respectful, and providing us with another captivating display – and in a blink of an eye came the chequered flag. The margin of victory: 0.549s.

    Sainz took the final podium place over Perez by just 2.7s (both under investigation along with Magnussen for allegedly not slowing sufficiently under yellows late on) – while Russell rounded out the top five. Ocon, meanwhile, fended off McLaren’s Lando Norris for P6 by just 0.107s. Norris had started 11th but found solid race pace to finish ahead of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly – and two of the hard-tyred starters, Magnussen (P9) and Hamilton (P10).

    Missing out on points in P11 was Zhou Guanyu, who bounced back after anti-stall compromised his start. The Chinese driver was soon found to have passed Albon off track early on and served his five-second penalty under the Safety Car, an infringement for which he was forced to serve a subsequent drive-through penalty.

    Nico Hulkenberg was 12th having started on hards and pitted in the second VSC period, but was swiftly passed by a number of drivers. He finished ahead of Aston Martin team mate Lance Stroll (P13, one lap down), whose car was hit by the Williams of Alex Albon moments from the end.

    Along with Albon, there were five other DNFs: Bottas retired on Lap 36 during the second VSC, Alonso a lap earlier along with Ricciardo, while neither Schumacher nor Tsunoda were able to start the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix with their respective issues for Haas and AlphaTauri.

  2. Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen played “smart tricks” to beat Charles Leclerc in Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. has the news story.

    Red Bull’s Max Verstappen said “playing smart tricks” in the final DRS zone proved key to his Saudi Arabian Grand Prix win after a long duel with Ferrari Formula 1 rival Charles Leclerc.

    Following a late Virtual Safety Car period, the gloves came off between long-time leader Leclerc and his main 2022 rival Verstappen.

    Verstappen first passed Leclerc in the final hairpin on lap 42 after the Monegasque driver appeared happy to let Verstappen by, as it returned the DRS advantage to him on the main straight and allowed him to retake the lead into Turn 1.

    Verstappen smartened up by trying to time his next pass better two laps later, but out-braked himself to try and keep the DRS for the main straight.

    On lap 47 Verstappen finally made the move stick on the run down to Turn 1 and held on to take his first win of 2022.

    “Yeah, it seems like once you get quite close, when you get within half a second, you actually can have a good exit,” Verstappen said.

    “And I think that makes it a lot more tricky to actually do the pass, let’s say in the last corner compared to last year, so it’s a lot harder to plan your pass.

    “It wasn’t easy playing smart tricks in the last corner but eventually I managed to get ahead.

    “But then even after that he was constantly in the DRS and then with the yellow flags in the last lap, just knowing how much you should lift, whether it’s allowed or not.”

    Verstappen said he was trying to play the long game after initially failing to get within DRS range of Leclerc, the Ferrari enjoying a downforce advantage in the corners.

    With both drivers out on old hard tyres after a one-stop race, the Dutchman tried to keep his tyre alive until the final 10 laps and bank on his higher top speed.

    “It was a really tough but a good race. We’re battling hard in the front and we just started to play the long game,” he explained.

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

    “You could see the end I think, we had a little bit more pace, so I just tried to get by. It was tough, but really happy that we finally kickstarted the season.”

    After retiring from last week’s season opener in Bahrain Verstappen climbs to third in the standings 20 points behind leader Leclerc, who scored a bonus point for the fastest lap, and eight points behind the second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.

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