Max Verstappen cashes in as Charles Leclerc fluffs his lines
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc has made far too mistakes in the first six races of this season and the Dutch reigning champion has punished him
Three races ago, Charles Leclerc enjoyed a 46-point lead over Max Verstappen but a sixth-place finish due to a mistake at Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and a retirement at the last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix means he now trails the defending champion by six points.
A lot has gone Leclerc’s way this season—he has a superior car, has taken pole position in four of the six races. At the same time his race craft, and luck, has let him down, which means he has just two wins to Verstappen’s four.
With reliability issues haunting the new age Formula One cars, the Ferrari driver needs to make every opportunity count, assess the situation well and decide what he wants to achieve rather than buckle under pressure in his quest to stay ahead of Verstappen.
What he needs is the poise and control he showed during his victory in the opening GP in Bahrain. In the season opener, Verstappen overtook him on multiple occasions early in the race—before he retired—but he always found a way to regain the lead.
What he should avoid are the kind of mistakes he made at Imola when battling for the second position with Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez. His car bounced off the kerb, spun and came to a standstill. He lost precious time due to his mistake. In his eagerness to pass Perez and catch Verstappen he thus lost a potential second place and 10 points. He finished sixth to settle for eight points.
Then an engine failure forced him to retire while leading in the Spanish GP. He ended up handing over the lead to Verstappen, who had his own issues with the car but managed to drive to victory.
Barring his two retirements due to technical glitches, Verstappen has hardly put a foot wrong. He has just one pole position this season but has four wins in four finishes. And whenever he has gone toe-to-toe with Leclerc, he has come up trumps.
Him overtaking Leclerc late in the race at the Saudi Arabia GP or getting past him quite early at the Miami GP and holding him off are some of the examples of him using his experience better than Leclerc.
“It is a shame. In those moments I feel like there is nothing more I can do apart from looking at the positives, and there are plenty this weekend. We will look at this issue and we cannot afford this happening many times in the season, so we need to find the problem,” Leclerc told Sky Sports after the weekend’s race.
Former F1 driver David Coulthard says Verstappen has shown more maturity this season. “Max really drove like the world champion he is, had that been a younger Max or a lesser Max then I think Charles probably could have got the pass done,” Coulthard told Channel 4 after Verstappen held off Leclerc at Miami. That’s the kind of control Leclerc needs to show if he has to battle it out with Verstappen.
The technical glitches may persist this season given that teams are fine-tuning their cars with each race, but he needs to tighten his approach. Leclerc got away with a spin in the final qualifying session in Spain as he had another bite at the cherry but he may not get that opportunity in a race.
His over aggression has caused him heartache. From crashing in qualifying during the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix when he was battling for pole to crashing out of the 2020 Italian Grand Prix after a safety car restart, his F1 career has seen him lose crucial points.
His and Verstappen’s rivalry goes back to karting days and was first seen on global stage during the 2019 Austrian GP when sparks flew, Verstappen taking victory. This year it has bloomed and early sings show it has the potential to be counted among the intense rivalries the sport has seen.