New era dawns with Verstappen and Leclerc as F1 aspirations come true

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The clip resurfaced over the weekend of a young Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc being interviewed after a go-kart race. Verstappen is livid, blaming his rival for running him off the track, while Leclerc sees it as a mere racing incident.

Fast forward to Jeddah yesterday: the final duel of two closely linked careers from the start ended uneventfully as Verstappen edged past Leclerc late to take the checkered flag.

Shortly after getting out of their cars, there was no resentment as the pair were seen talking animatedly about what sounded like the intricacies of their repeated overtaking maneuvers.

On proof of just 107 racing laps so far this season – first in Bahrain, then in Saudi Arabia – it’s the rivalry that is set to define 2022.

He highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of their two cars: the Ferrari much stronger in the first sector but defeated by its relative lack of pace on the straights compared to the Red Bulls, which was only exacerbated by the DRS.

It was a tough and smart race too; both drivers showing sufficient maturity and providing enough space to avoid contact; Verstappen is biding his time after an early passing error to finally force a pass, which Leclerc can’t quite come back from.

Asked to compare it to other duels – like the one in the season last year with Lewis Hamilton, Verstappen said: “Every battle is different, but it’s just smart racing and good racing, so you just have to s deal with it, adapt to it. It was not easy, but very fun.

Everyone knows how Verstappen and Hamilton could have gotten away with a similar situation. The Briton finished 10th and is currently far from entering a title conversation.

Leclerc accepted that Verstappen helped define him as a driver through the various junior ranks until today in F1. “We had great battles in karting and we grew together – and that helped us grow in our own way,” he said.

Lewis Hamilton now looks far behind rival Max Verstappen, after finishing 10th in Jeddah

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Both readily admitted they were helped by the new cars for 2022. there no longer seems to be any doubt. They were able to follow each other closely, and there was evidence of this not just at the front, but all over the field.

Another goal of the revamp was for more riders and teams to fight up front. If it hadn’t been for the misfortune of his pit stop just before a safety car was deployed, it could have been Sergio Perez, rather than Verstappen, celebrating victory. Additionally, Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz was much happier in the car this weekend for a second podium finish.

Mercedes were supposed to be in on it, but there will only be more head-scratching ahead of the Australian GP in two weeks.

In Bahrain, George Russell struggled to keep pace with his teammate, but yesterday it was the opposite. Worryingly, Mercedes seemed unable to explain the disparity at an estimated second one lap off the pace.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff remained optimistic in the aftermath. He said, “We’re not going to rest until we’re back in the mix. It will make us stronger in the end.

Mercedes are already at risk of being left behind by Ferrari and Red Bull this season

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Constructors’ champions believe they have the pace if they can overcome their gremlins and unleash the car’s potential. But if it comes too late, the danger is that Ferrari and Red Bull will have already disappeared into the distance.

The other issue is the budget cap and how much money even the biggest teams can spend on the development race. Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto said the right development would be a “game changer” in the title fight, while Red Bull technical boss Adrian Newey said it was all about “what what we bring and when”.

As for how it plays out in Australia, the same is expected, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner not overly concerned about the change in their challenger.

“Ferrari are a great team, they’ve been a sleeping giant for a few years,” he said. “It was a great race today – a good, tough race between the riders. If that’s what’s planned for the rest of the season, it’s going to be epic.


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