Max Verstappen believes he was in with a strong chance of beating Charles Leclerc prior to the Ferrari driver’s crash in the French Grand Prix as he thought the pace would be faster early on.
Leclerc retained the lead from pole position but had Verstappen within his DRS range for the first 13 laps of the race before he started to pull away. After Verstappen made his pit stop, Leclerc then crashed out, allowing the championship leader to take a comfortable victory, but it’s one Verstappen thinks was a possibility even without Leclerc’s error.
“We will never know [who was quicker] because we cannot swap cars but it looked good from our side,” Verstappen said. “I was very happy because I wanted to see immediately if we could follow or not, compared to Austria where it was the other way around — where I was in the lead but I could barely hold on — but this time I think we were a lot more competitive.
“Of course our straight-line speed was very beneficial but because of that; in the high speed we had to be a bit more careful.
“I stayed in his DRS for quite a while, but around here — even driving on your own — the tires are already getting really hot, so I think by doing that, towards the pit stop my tires were a bit too hot. That’s why I think he pulled away a little bit. But it wasn’t anything…drastic, the way he was pulling away, so I still had good hope that we would have had a good fight on the other compound as well.
“I thought he would be faster [in the first stint]. I thought it would be very hard to follow, but immediately I could see that our balance was not bad. It could just be that he was managing a bit, but it looked like we were very competitive and that is…what we like to see.”
After seeing his championship lead extended to 63 points in France, Verstappen says he is still wary of Ferrari’s potential but wants to make sure he limits the losses at any races he doesn’t have the pace to win.
“It’s a great lead, but a lot of things can happen. I just want to stay focused. We need a lot more good results, we still need more one-lap pace, and also the next race is Budapest — I think that’s going to be a bit more of a struggle for us, where I think Ferrari is going to be really, really quick, but we’ll see. It’s all about scoring points every single race, even when it’s not your day.”