Max Verstappen won the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix by patiently working himself into a position to take advantage of his Drag Reduction System on the start-finish straight.
Until that decisive move was made on the 46th lap of the race, the Red Bull driver had spent the best part of 80 minutes staring at the F1-75’s rear wing.
That gave him plenty of opportunity to observe what Leclerc was up to. He tried to turn that to his advantage as well, highlighting any possible infringement by the Ferrari driver which the stewards might pick up on: The lights on his car, his line on the main straight, his observance of yellow flags.
Eventually Verstappen’s race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase urged him to “calm down” and “let us do our work.” But Verstappen always seemed to have his driving under control, and eventually teed Leclerc up for a race-winning pass.
Before that, the pair of them had to get into position to win the race. Pole-winner Sergio Perez led the opening laps, but behind him second-placed Leclerc was eager to apply strategic pressure, urging his team to consider a pit stop in an attempt to get ahead of the leader. But Red Bull pre-empted the move, bringing Perez in first.Lap Red Bull speaker Message Ferrari speaker Message 1 Lambiase Mode seven what you can. 1 Lambiase And brake bias offset Max, brake bias offset. Display eight when you can, display eight. 1 Lambiase Strat six please Max, strat six. 1 Lambiase Bias is still minus two. 1 Lambiase So just forwards on your tools for the moment. 2 Lambiase And display five position three for increased diff support, display five position three when you can. M.Padros Take care of the tyres at turn 22. Gap to Verstappen behind 1.6. 3 M.Padros And we need to look after the tyres at turns six, seven, 10 and also 22. Gap to Verstappen behind 1.5, Perez in front of 1.8. 4 Verstappen The lights of Leclerc don’t work on the back of this car. M.Padros At the moment we are thinking plan A, plan A. 4 Lambiase Confirm, they do not work? Question. 4 Verstappen Yeah, they don’t work. 5 Lambiase Understood. Thank you. M.Padros Tyre phase update when you can. 6 M.Padros And tyres are good to push. 7 M.Padros You are doing a good job on tyres, continue like this. 8 Leclerc Stop speaking in the first corner, please. 8 M.Padros Got to Verstappen behind 1.5. We are going plan A and our degradation is better than Red Bull. 9 Verstappen Mate, front starts to slowly give up. M.Padros And try to increase pushing status. 10 M.Padros You are doing a good job, continue like this. 10 Lambiase Think about the pull toggle at turn 16 if it’s convenient. 11 Verstappen Ah mate I can’t do shit, it’s just understeering. M.Padros And tyre phase update when you can. 11 Lambiase Okay so come back on some of the tools that you closed up before. M.Padros An increase pushing a status a bit more. 11 Leclerc I can’t. 12 M.Padros And tyre life is plus four compared to pre-event, plus four. 13 Leclerc Consider box to overtake. 13 M.Padros Understood. 14 Lambiase Can I have a front wing update for the next stint please, Max. M.Padros And box to overtake, box to overtake. 14 Verstappen The tyres just have died, the front wing is actually okay. M.Padros And stay out, stay out, stay out. 14 M.Padros Push for over-cut. 14 Leclerc Copy that. 15 Lambiase Okay so Checo in pit lane. M.Padros And Perez pitted for hard. 15 Lambiase Leclerc 35.2, 35.2. Leclerc What are we doing? Early Safety Car handed the lead to Leclerc
“We were ready to pit,” Leclerc said afterwards, acknowledging that he would have come in had Perez not done so. “We basically went for the opposite to Checo in front, and he boxed that lap, so I think we did the right choice.”
It turned out that way because the Safety Car appeared moments later, allowing Leclerc to make his pit stop while losing less time, and take the lead.
Verstappen pitted too, discarding his medium compound tyres for the hard rubber. “I didn’t really feel that happy on the medium,” he explained. “All the time, when you would get close to the car ahead the tyres would die.
“So there was not much racing going on there. It was a little bit frustrating to just sit there and wait for the right lap to pit so you could go onto the other tyres, because as soon as we went on to the hard tyre I had a much better feeling.”
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After the Safety Car came in, Red Bull played the long game with Verstappen, expecting his superior straight-line speed would eventually offer him an opportunity to get past.
“I tried to stay close with Charles after the Safety Car restart and I was just trying to keep the gap more or less the same,” he said. “And that was basically it, just trying to match the lap times, trying to get a bit closer, then he was pulling away a bit. I got a bit closer again.”
Their cars’ strengths lay on different parts of the track, Leclerc noted. “It was very difficult because we had two cars that were in a very different place. I was very strong in the first sector, in all the corners, and basically much less strong in the straights.”
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The race’s second interruption came when Fernando Alonso and Daniel Ricciardo slower, the latter coming to a stop in the pit lane entrance, triggering a Virtual Safety Car period.Gallery: 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in pictures
For the pair contesting victory at the front, this meant ensuring they brought their tyres back up to operating temperature after cooling at slower speeds. Meanwhile Leclerc was watching Verstappen just as his rival watched him, at one point alerting his team the Red Bull driver suddenly seemed closer than he should be while the race was neutralised.
Verstappen said he hadn’t been trying to game the system to get closer to his rival while obeying the delta time intervals applied during the VSC period.
“To be honest, I was a little bit surprised myself that it did look a little bit closer, but I don’t know how close Charles was to zero with the delta,” he said. “That’s always a bit of a question mark.
“But also, sometimes it depends a bit where the restart is: If it’s in a corner for somebody in front or not. I think I was still on a bit more of the straight side and I had a bit of a better run into turn four as well.”35 Lambiase 15 laps remaining. 36 Lambiase Okay Max, Alonso is moving very slowly ahead, he’s on the approach to turn 22. Alonso at 22. M.Padros And Alonso slow in front, is now at turn 20, be careful with him. 36 Lambiase We’ve got yellows where you are at the moment. M.Padros Ricciardo stop in pit entry. Gap to Verstappen behind 1.3. 37 Verstappen I don’t think he lifted. M.Padros Virtual Safety Car deployed, Virtual Safety Car deployed. Pit lane is closed, pit lane is closed. 37 Lambiase Okay understood thank you. M.Padros And charge button on, charge on. 37 Lambiase Okay Virtual Safety Car deployed Max. Target positive, dash positive. Stay out, stay out, the pit entry is closed, you are staying out. M.Padros So pit lane is closed, Alonso and Ricciardo stopped there. 37 Verstappen Yeah tyres are fine anyway. 37 Verstappen Yeah understood. 37 Lambiase Recharge on. Recharge on. 37 Lambiase We’re looking into your last comment about the yellow there, Max as well, thank you. 37 Verstappen There’s oil in the last corner. 37 Lambiase Understood. 38 M.Padros They have cleared Ricciardo’s car but Alonso still there pit entry. 38 M.Padros And for tyres, we can push ’til the end. Try to keep some temperature in the fronts, if you can. 38 M.Padros Pit entry is closed. And less braking, easy on brakes. 38 M.Padros They are starting to push Alonso’s car out of the way. 38 M.Padros And when we restart it will be K2 on. 39 Lambiase I don’t think this will be too much longer Max. M.Padros You are doing a good job on tyre temperatures, they are okay to push on tyre temperatures. 39 Lambiase Cars look like they’re getting cleared at the pit lane entry. M.Padros And we think it will be soon. 39 Lambiase Be aware we’ve lost quite a bit of temperature in the tyres, biased to the front axles. So fronts will be cool. So think about your braking offset. Leclerc Why is Max much closer? 39 M.Padros It’s okay now, should be fine. And left toggle off, left toggle off. 39 M.Padros Virtual Safety Car ending, Virtual Safety Car ending, K2 on. 39 M.Padros DRS enabled, Verstappen behind 1.2.
The VSC period ended with 11 laps of racing to go and now the fight for victory was on.Neither driver wanted to be first to the DRS line
“I knew that the strength of Max and the Red Bull in general this weekend was the straight-line speed,” said Leclerc. “So I basically knew that if I was leaving Max with a DRS behind for the main straight, I will basically be overtaken very easily.
“So, I just wanted that, DRS, so on the first lap, I braked very early and I got the DRS and manage to overtake back on the run to turn one.”
Verstappen took note of his rival’s DRS tactics but also the power of Ferrari’s hybrid system when pushed to the maximum. “Like Charles said you always try to have a good run with the DRS into the final zone, where then you have a lot of fast corners where you cannot pass. So Charles played it very smart there.
“But also it seemed like their defence [and] attack mode is very powerful. So, for me also, even more top speed. It was very hard to nail the overtake.”40 Lambiase Okay VSC ending, Max. Recharge off, Virtual Safety Car ending. Focus. M.Padros Verstappen behind with DRS. 40 Verstappen What’s the gap? M.Padros Verstappen behind with DRS. 40 Lambiase 1.1. M.Padros And SOC eight when you can. 40 Lambiase Brake bias offset. 40 Lambiase So you’re on DRS. 41 Lambiase You have DRS. M.Padros Verstappen behind with the DRS. 41 Lambiase Mode seven Max. M.Padros Verstappen behind with DRS again. 42 Lambiase Press and hold the overtake. M.Padros Verstappen behind with DRS, Verstappen behind with DRS. 42 Verstappen Gap? M.Padros Verstappen behind with DRS again. 42 Lambiase One second. M.Padros Verstappen behind with DRS. 42 Lambiase 0.5. M.Padros And SOC eight when you can. 43 Verstappen He crossed the line again. M.Padros Verstappen behind with DRS. 43 Lambiase Copy that. Thank you, we’ve seen it. 43 Lambiase You calm down, let us do our work mate, just keep your head down. 43 Lambiase Mode eight Max, mode eight. 44 M.Padros Verstappen behind with DRS and five laps to go. 45 Lambiase Okay that’s five laps remaining, Max, five laps. M.Padros Verstappen behind with DRS. 45 Verstappen Mode seven, I want? M.Padros Verstappen behind with DRS. 45 Lambiase Mode seven, yep, mode seven. M.Padros And SOC eight when you can. 45 Lambiase Gap 0.8.
On his third significant attempt, Verstappen finally executed the crucial move on Leclerc. Soon afterwards, Alexander Albon and Lance Stroll collided at the first corner, bringing out the yellow flags.Albon’s tangle with Leclerc was bad news for Stroll
This was a double blow for Leclerc. Not only was a key overtaking spot on the track temporarily out of action, but the DRS zone on the pit straight was deactivated, preventing him from closing back up on the Red Bull driver.
“I tried to have the DRS in the last corner, it worked twice but it didn’t the last time, and then obviously there was this yellow flag,” he said. “I think the one where I could have had a chance to at least be alongside was the one into turn one I had no DRS there, so this was a little bit of a shame. But it’s part of the game.”
Now Verstappen sprinted for the line. “Once I was ahead it was really like four laps flat-out trying to stay ahead because Charles was consistently in my DRS,” he said. “It was quite tough out there.”
With one eye on the red car in his mirrors, Verstappen suspected Leclerc had not lifted as much as he did through the yellow flags on the final lap, and warned his team on the radio.46 Verstappen Gap? M.Padros And SOC six when you can. 46 Lambiase Showing 0.8. You are fuel free, Max, fuel free. M.Padros And three laps to go. 46 Lambiase 0.8. 47 Verstappen Gas? M.Padros Double yellow turns one and two. Double yellow turns one… Now it’s clear, clear, clear. 47 Lambiase 0.7. And that’s a purple lap. M.Padros Single yellow, turn one, single yellow, turn one. 47 Verstappen How many laps? M.Padros And SOC five when you can. 47 Lambiase Three remaining. 47 Lambiase 0.6. 47 Lambiase 0.5. 48 Lambiase Okay we’ve got yellows at turn one-two. Yellows turn one-two. M.Padros And last lap. 48 Lambiase Track clear. M.Padros Double yellow turns eight and nine. 48 Lambiase Okay two more laps. M.Padros And SOC three when you saw three. 48 Lambiase Mode six. 48 Lambiase 0.7. 48 Lambiase 0.7. 49 Lambiase 0.7. 49 Lambiase This is the final lap. 49 Lambiase So we’ve still got yellows, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 double yellows. 49 Lambiase Double yellows eight, nine, 10. 49 Verstappen How’d he close up? That’s so unfair. 49 Lambiase Mode four. 49 Lambiase Gap a 0.5. 49 Lambiase 0.5. Need a clean exit. 49 Lambiase 0.4. Press and hold the overtake. 50 Verstappen Haha! Nice! Fucking hell. That was good, M.Padros And charge button on, P2. 50 Lambiase That was good. Okay, 2022 has started. Leclerc Yep. Well done to Max, that was nice. Ah, we lacked a little bit of straight-line speed. 50 Horner Wow, that was close. Wow. Unbelievable. Well done, Max. Great. Great job. M.Padros Still double yellow turns six, turns eight and nine, turns eight and nine. Be careful, turns eight, nine please. 50 Verstappen That was good racing, holy shit. Nice. Good job, guys. We are back on track. Leclerc Yeah, copy. 50 Lambiase Still got double yellows eight, nine, 10, Max. Fail 84, fail 84. M.Padros You’ve done a great job. Charge button on. And we have the fastest lap. 50 Verstappen I mean that last one mate that really difficult what to do because I’m fully lifting in both corners. M.Padros Do you want positions? 50 Lambiase Yeah I understand, Max, I understand. It’s always going to go that way presumably. But there was no outwitting you today. So top job. You played that final stint perfectly. Leclerc Well I know. Can I have the fastest lap of everyone please? I mean of the top four. 50 Verstappen That was exciting. M.Padros So Verstappen, 31.7, Sainz 32.6 and then Perez 33.1. 50 Horner Well done mate that was very tactical, you timed it perfectly, absolutely perfectly. Leclerc Copy. 50 Verstappen What was the finishing order in the end? M.Padros Correction Sainz 31.9, Verstappen, 31.8 and Pirelli 32.0. 50 Lambiase So yourself, Leclerc and Sainz. So spare a thought for Checo today in fourth. So basically what happened to him was I think he came out literally a tenth or two behind Sainz at the Safety Car line two. That was unfortunate for him. Leclerc And me 31.7? 50 Verstappen That’s really unlucky man. But we have a lot of races, we can make it a one-two. M.Padros 31.6 for you. 50 Leclerc Okay. 50 Leclerc It’s not on the track, where do we go? 50 M.Padros Into the pit lane, into the pit lane. Verstappen celebrated his first win as world champion
Immediately after the race the stewards noted three drivers may have failed to properly obey the yellow flags, but none of them were Leclerc or Verstappen, and no action was taken anyway.
Having been unable to make a pass stick on Leclerc in Bahrain, Verstappen got his own back in Saudi Arabia. He did it by throwing everything he had at his rival, on the track and on his radio.
NB. The transcripts above discount some routine messages such as those about gaps between drivers.
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