Max Verstappen against Lewis Hamilton, that was a long time ago. In 2022 the duel is called Max Verstappen versus Charles Leclerc. The second round in Jeddah was even better than the first in Bahrain. This shows that the new cars are fit for purpose.
The season opener in Bahrain was an advertisement for the new Formula 1. The second race in Saudi Arabia brought an increase. The architects of the new cars can pat themselves on the back. Your ground effect formula works.
"They deliver what their makers had set themselves. You can only applaud them. We saw two spectacular races, overtaking manoeuvres, a starting grid that was mixed up, an extremely narrow midfield," praised Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. His personal downside: "Unfortunately, we're not in the fight for the top spot."
In Bahrain, voices were raised that this route has always produced many overtaking manoeuvres. In 2021 there were 58. The number has increased to 67 this year. Despite its long straights, Jeddah is one of the circuits where overtaking is generally more difficult. Last year, minus the two restart laps, there were only 18 overtakes.
The second Grand Prix on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit now produced 38 overtaking manoeuvres. And they were all quality. Not just driving by. Even if the DRS advantage was big on the straights, the attacker had to be extremely careful not to lose his position again in the next corners.
All drivers agree that following behind has become easier. Because the car loses less downforce and the tires don't overheat as quickly. Max Verstappen differentiated: "But that only applies to the harder tire types." Charles Leclerc notices: "If you follow another car, your car's reaction has become much more predictable. In the past you never knew how the balance would shift." However, there is also agreement on the subject of DRS: "We still need DRS for overtaking. We can't do without it."
Attack and counter-attack
In Jeddah, Formula 1 experienced the new edition of the duel between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc. And that was even better than the first episode in Bahrain. After Leclerc took the lead on lap 15, the Ferrari and Red Bull were never more than 1.7 seconds apart until the end of the race, with the exception of the VSC phase. That alone has a new quality. In the past, the pursuer would have had to back off after five laps at the latest to prevent the tires from overheating.
And again there was an attack and a counterattack within a few laps. This time with even more tricks and sophistication. "It's a chess game," said Jenson Button from his commentary box.On lap 42, Leclerc unpacked his Bahrain scam, gave Verstappen the lead before the target curve to hit back with DRS on the following straight.
But Verstappen learned quickly. On the following lap, both drivers almost came to a standstill in front of the DRS measuring point to allow the other to go first. Leclerc was slightly ahead, but he started the sprint so early and left Verstappen so little space that he surprised him with the better acceleration.
On lap 46, the Dutchman grabbed his bag of tricks and dropped back in the fast snaking after turn 13 to reassure his opponent that he could be in front at the DRS measuring point. But thanks to DRS, the world champion caught up very quickly in the final corners, so that Leclerc was not able to give up his place in time.
So it was due on the home straight. Leclerc copied the trick again two laps later, hanging on the Red Bull at the finish line with the rear wing open in the rear-view mirror when the yellow flag in turn 1 prevented him from going through with the attack. That was Verstappen's match winner.
Overtaking maneuvers harder to plan
The positive insight from this duel is that two completely different cars can go wheel-to-wheel over a whole race distance. The Red Bull makes its time on the straights, the Ferrari on the corners.
"Today, top speed beat downforce," summed up Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto. Ferrari had deliberately sacrificed some top speed to protect the tyres. But then it turned out that you could have driven forever with the hard tires. That played the better cards into Red Bull's hand.
The head-to-head race between Ferrari and Red Bull shows that small things sometimes swing the pendulum in one direction and sometimes in the other. Neither of the two winners can afford to make a mistake or have bad luck at any stage of the race.
Sergio Perez tripped over unfortunate timing of his pit stop. A lap after he changed tires, the safety car went out and gave Leclerc, Verstappen and Sainz a pit stop.
Max Verstappen stated: "You have to plan the overtaking maneuvers much better than before." Because you can no longer shake off an opponent by driving around in front of them for a few laps to ruin their tires. Because you can never be sure of a counterattack after an overtaking manoeuvre. And because the DRS has become even more powerful.
That's not because of the new rear wings, but because the following driver can catch up more closely before the corner and can stay in touch. This means that the pursuer has to make up fewer meters on the straight. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner already sees a new epic duel on the horizon.
The fans are the winners
The best example of how good the new cars are in a duel was provided by the two Alpine drivers. Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso felt like they were centimeters apart and were still able to bite each other. As soon as Alonso was over, he had Ocon on his neck again. And vice versa. Mercedes strategy chief James Vowles stated: "This duel would have been impossible a year ago."
Overtaking maneuvers are still not a sure-fire success. Not even when a Lewis Hamilton on fresh tires tries to slow down Lance Stroll on old tires. The Mercedes driver had to queue up behind the Aston Martin for two laps.
There is a factor that nobody had on their radar. Pirelli's new rubbers show little wear. You can often ride as fast with old soles as with fresh ones. At least with the mixtures C1, C2 and C3. The C4 rubber is a little more critical. That's why everyone in the race kept their hands off it.
The new generation of vehicles received praise from all sides. Even from those who are struggling even more with their own problems at the moment. McLaren team boss Andreas Seidl drew a conclusion that everyone would agree with: "The big winners are Formula 1 and its fans." The final acid test awaits the premier class in the next two races. In the past, Melbourne and Imola have always been among the circuits with the fewest overtaking manoeuvres.