Max Verstappen admits to struggling with Charles Leclerc's 'smart tricks' in epic Saudi Arabian GP duel
Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc engaged in an epic duel for the second time in as many races at the start of 2022 Formula One season; the world champion came out on top to win the Saudi Arabian GP and claim his first victory of the campaign
Last Updated: 27/03/22 10:01pm
Max Verstappen said it "wasn't easy" to overcome Charles Leclerc's "smart tricks", after coming out on top of an epic Saudi Arabian GP duel to claim his first win of the season.
Red Bull's reigning world champion passed Leclerc with four laps remaining following a thrilling wheel-to-wheel battle over a series of laps, echoing scenes from last weekend's season-opener in Bahrain, when the Ferrari came out on top before Verstappen retired late in the race.
Leclerc's canny use of the DRS zones was crucial in enabling him to stay ahead of Verstappen in Bahrain, and the same plan initially worked for him in Jeddah until the Dutchman changed his approach, waiting for the second of the two main straights to make his move and therefore denying his rival the chance to hit back immediately.
"It was really tough but a good race," Verstappen said. "We were battling hard at the front and we just tried to play the long game.
"It wasn't easy playing smart tricks in the last corner, but eventually I managed to get ahead."
Formula One's radical new design regulations for 2022 are enabling the cars to follow each other far more closely, which is increasing the chance of overtakes, and despite having lost on Sunday, Leclerc is thrilled with the results.
"Oh my god! I really enjoyed that race," Leclerc said. "It's hard racing but fair. Every race should be like this. It was fun, I'm of course disappointed, we wanted to win today.
"The new regulations are definitely working. The second to last straight I was just part-throttle trying for Max to overtake me and for me to have the DRS. It worked once. then the second time he understood so he broke very early and it was a bit of a mess.
"It was fun, I liked racing like this and it was much easier to follow than I initially thought."
'Respect key to good battles'
Having qualified fourth, Verstappen was always likely to need overtakes to claim his first win of the season. He got past the other Ferrari of Carlos Sainz on the opening lap, before the pole-sitting Red Bull of Sergio Perez was cruelly dropped out of contention by the timing of a Safety Car.
That sequence of events left Verstappen and Leclerc, who are both 24-year-olds and have competed against each other since their karting days as children, go head-to-head for victory once more.
"You have to be patient because I want to score points as well, I want to win but also not retire," Verstappen said.
"The battles have been really cool and really hard. Both of us, we have a lot of respect for each other and that's important, that's why we have these good battles."
Leclerc, who was critical of Verstappen after clashes earlier in their F1 careers, insisted he has always respected the Dutchman.
"It's always been there, especially when you finish a race like this," Leclerc said. "We're on a street track, we've been pushing like I've rarely pushed before to the absolute limit, and we take risks at the end, so of course there is respect."
'They are going to clash'
While the Sky Sports F1 team were in unison in praising Verstappen and Leclerc for their skills, Paul Di Resta was left adamant that at some point their cars are going to come together.
"I'm sure at some point they're going to clash with each other because they're very, very aggressive," Di Rest said.
The result left early world championship leader Leclerc with a 20-point advantage of third-placed Verstappen, who is playing catch-up after his opening-race retirement.
While we are only in the very early stages of what is scheduled to be a 23-race season, Anthony Davidson thinks this may just be the start of a special contest.
"Epic racing. This isn't going to be the last time; this is going to roll on," Davidson said. "The two cars are so evenly matched, the two drivers are so evenly matched, and I just think we're going to go onto bigger and better things."
The season continues with the Australian GP on April 10, live on Sky Sports F1.