Max Verstappen admits he had to produce qualifying laps in the closing stages of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to hold off Charles Leclerc after a thrilling battle.
Leclerc inherited the lead during an early safety car period when previous leader Sergio Perez slipped to fourth due to unfortunate pit stop timing. After swapping positions with Verstappen, the Ferrari driver held on until four laps remaining when Verstappen finally got by and remained in the lead, pushing flat out to keep Leclerc at bay by half a second.
“Qualifying laps!” Verstappen said of the final few laps. “It was tough, I didn’t really feel that happy on the medium [tires]. All the time getting closer to the car ahead, the tire would die, so there was not much racing going on; a little bit frustrating to just sit there and wait for the right lap to pit so you could go onto the other tire as soon as we want.
“On the hard tire I had a much better feeling. I tried to stay with Charles after the safety car restart, trying to keep the gap the same. That was basically it – trying to match the lap times; trying to get a bit closer; then he was pulling away a bit – I got a bit closer. Then we had the VSC at the end. Then it’s always a question mark what would happen with the tires because they cool down a lot, but it seems we had a good first three laps on that restart.
“I had a good feeling with the car and the tires were holding on quite well through the high speed [corners]. Then I had a few good opportunities, but Charles really played it smart in the last corner so it was not easy for me to actually get by, and of course then I had to line myself up again to have another go, and eventually I had a go and got ahead. But once I got ahead, it was, like, four laps flat out trying to stay ahead because Charles was consistently in my DRS. It was quite tough out there.”
Verstappen’s first win of the season sees him close the points gap to Leclerc – down to 20, but he says there are still areas Red Bull needs to improve to get more out of its 2022 car.
“Difficult to say if it is a step forward but we are always learning and every track is different from what we need from the car. Still a lot of things to look at because, of course, clearly yesterday I wasn’t very happy and…the first stint still wasn’t how I’d like it to be, but being the car following you just open up your tyre sooner and that’s not great out there.
“So that’s also something because as soon as I felt I was in clean air the car did change a bit in balance. We’ll have a look, but still things to get on top of as it’s a new car still.”