Leclerc takes revenge on vulnerable-looking Verstappen in Austria

Max Verstappen drives past a grandstand in Austria packed with Dutch fans in his Red Bull.Image ANP

Fewer than 50 thousand Dutch people have traveled to Austria to witness an almost annual spectacle: Max Verstappen reigns in the circuit having already won four times. They were given a different service on Sunday. For the first time in months, the defending champion looked vulnerable, while his Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc showed he was far from relinquishing the title with a race win.

Leclerc had to wait exactly three months for his next Formula 1 win since winning in Australia in April. In between were a series of races riddled with engine failure and strategic mistakes on his team’s part. After the race he saw Verstappen crawling away from him in World Cup position, even though he was in the fastest car in many of those GPs.

The 24-year-old Monegasque made it obvious. A week ago at Silverstone, he got out of his car furiously after missing out on a certain victory at the end of the race when his team was the only one not to put him on fresh tyres.

On Saturday, after a sprint race in Austria, he once again stood sour-faced in front of the TV cameras. Verstappen won that mini-race easily as the Ferrari drivers behind him were mainly battling each other.

But it fell to Leclerc in Sunday’s feature race. It soon became apparent that Verstappen’s tires were wearing out quickly as he started from pole position. As a result, he quickly lost momentum compared to Leclerc.

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Leclerc overtook Verstappen for the first time on lap twelfth. Soon after, the Dutchman made a pit stop, which put him on a different tire strategy than Leclerc. From that moment on, Ferrari had the initiative.

Leclerc made his first stop significantly later than Verstappen and returned to the track on fresh, faster tires behind the Dutchman. Within ten laps he had already overtaken Verstappen. Twenty laps later, the scene repeated itself, causing Leclerc to pass Verstappen three times in total.

It looked as if Verstappen would have to settle for third place as the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz quickly came close. As the Spaniard overtook Verstappen, his Ferrari engine exploded.

As a result, Verstappen finished second, although after the race he did not ignore the fact that he was awarded the position as a result of losing his senses. “We had a lot of wear. We had the same problem with all types of tires. After two laps, I lost speed immediately,” Verstappen resignedly told the ViaPlay camera.

‘It felt a bit like that Holiday† If you only lose a total of five points in such a weekend (Verstappen scored 27 points in Austria, Leclerc 32, Red.), that’s not all wrong.’

Verstappen has now gone two races in a row without a win for the first time this season. His race team also speculated on the cause of his high tire wear at the circuit where he took two wins last season. According to Red Bull CEO Helmut Marko, the problems are ‘inexplicable’. This underlines that there are vulnerabilities in Verstappen’s RB18 that technicians have yet to iron out.

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After three months of bad luck, there is no better place for Leclerc to put a positive spin on his season. In 2019, at the same Red Bull Ring, he was brutally overtaken by Verstappen in the closing laps – and his comment was illegal. He then drove to his first F1 victory. The incident haunted him for a long time.

He now won in Austria and overtook Verstappen three times en route to give him a sense of revenge. “I needed this win,” Leclerc admitted. “The last five races have been incredibly difficult for me and the team. It’s incredibly good to show how fast we are now.

He admitted he was comfortable in his Ferrari in the final laps. All of a sudden his accelerator stuck and he found it hard to get through especially slow corners. “I was a bit scared then,” said the Ferrari driver with an obvious smile.

Leclerc is second in the World Cup standings, ahead of Verstappen’s teammate Perez. The gap to championship leader Verstappen remains significant at 38 points. Leclerc knows better than anyone how quickly a championship can change completely in a few races. Three months ago, after the Australian GP, ​​he was 46 points ahead of Verstappen. ‘So we must stay push Until the end,” he said.

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