• Chris Kato

Can Leclerc vs Verstappen Be Even Better Than Verstappen vs Hamilton?

If you thought 2021's title battle was good then you better be ready for Leclerc/Verstappen in 2022...

Courtesy - Red Bull Content Pool

Two races into the 2022 Formula 1 season and we've gotten back to back thrilling rounds of Charles Leclerc vs Max Verstappen. The latest round in this hopefully season long battle went the way of Red Bull's Max Verstappen as the reigning World Champion overtook Leclerc with less than 5 laps to go to claim his first win of the season in Saudi Arabia. The two were following each other all race long with a strategic chess match culminating in another fantastic display of racing at the end of the Grand Prix. This battle continued on from Bahrain and we now leave Jeddah with the Leclerc and Verstappen score dead even at one a piece. But if the first two races of the year have taught us anything, it's that Ferrari and Red Bull are heading toward and close season long battle for the championship. A year removed from an epic Verstappen vs Hamilton fight for the title, could this 2022 rivalry be even better than what we saw in 2021??

A "Friendlier" Rivalry And Mutual Respect

Courtesy - Red Bull Content Pool

One aspect that really soured the 2021 championship battle a little was the tension and at times toxic environment surrounding the Verstappen vs Hamilton battle. You had teams going at each other, the drivers fighting each other on track, and fan bases of both drivers at each others necks race after race. So far, 2022 looks like it will be different and that Charles Leclerc vs Max Verstappen will be a "friendlier" rivalry. Despite the close battles on track, Verstappen and Leclerc have shown a lot of mutual respect to each other but also a genuine admiration for each others talents and efforts. We saw this in Bahrain and also in Saudi Arabia with both drivers going out of there way to congratulate each other and have a friendly banter that we didn't really see in last year's title fight. Of course Verstappen and Hamilton had a mutual respect, but the rivalry was so intense at times that both drivers would hardly acknowledge each other post race. At least in the early stages of this season, there seems to be a healthy rivalry between Red Bull and Ferrari and also the fans are far more appreciative and complimentary of there rivals. We're only two races in and with plenty more to go, we'll have to wait a few more Grand Prix's to see whether this will be a straight fight between Max and Charles or if others will get involved as well. There is plenty of history between the two and if this battle rages on, of course their is a chance it can get heated and nasty. But for now, F1 fans are just enjoying the racing and the prospect of another epic title battle.

Cars Allowing For Better Racing Between Rivals

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The new regulations in 2022 also offers the Leclerc vs Verstappen rivalry to be better than 2021's battle in terms of racing. It might not be a stretch to say that we've seen Leclerc and Verstappen battle wheel to wheel more in two races than we saw Lewis and Max go at it for 22 races last year! We saw many times last season where drivers would only get one or maybe two opportunities to complete an overtake. After that, the car would start overheating, tyres would drop off, but more importantly, the dirty air would make it hard to get close. One positive of the racing in 2022 so far is that we've seen drivers go at each other over the course of multiple laps. In previous years, you'd see an overtake and the driver disappear off into the distance. But in 2022, drivers are able to follow easier which gives them a chance to fight back and repass. Case and point the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. After the VSC ended on Lap 41 of 50, Verstappen and Leclerc went back and forth for 9 straight laps with the lead being exchanged 4 times between the pair. The new regulations are allowing the drivers to attack more freely and the comments from them show that they're enjoying F1's new cars. Oh my God, I really enjoyed that race,” said Leclerc. “Again, it’s hard racing but fair and every race should be like this.” The 2022 cars are really bringing the best out of Verstappen and Leclerc's driver skillset. In Bahrain and Jeddah, we've seen the driver's speed, wheel to wheel fighting, and strategic maneuvering that's made the battle for P1 this year very exciting. Especially when you consider the two drivers were only separated by 5 tenths as the checkered flag dropped in Jeddah.

#2 Drivers Will Be More Of A Factor In 2022

Courtesy - Red Bull Content Pool

As much as we're enjoying the Leclerc/Verstappen battles in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, it's still not 100% clear that they'll be the only ones fighting for the championship this year. Even if they are, the number two drivers at Red Bull and Ferrari could become an even bigger factor than 2021's support drivers at Mercedes and Red Bull. Let's not forget it was Sergio Perez who was in control of the race until the poorly timed pitstop and safety car led to the Mexican finishing fourth. Checo has shown some excellent form to start the 2022 season as he got his first career pole in Jeddah, out-qualifying his teammate and being only 2 tenths off of Max in Bahrain. If Perez can gave some better luck and get some race results, he could see himself in the Drivers Championship fight as well. On the Ferrari side, Carlos Sainz has had a solid start to the year as well with a P2, and P3 and he is sitting second in the championship at the moment. However, you get the sense that Sainz is a little more adrift from the championship battle then Perez is. With Red Bull's strong Saudi Arabian GP showing, Sainz will have to find extra performance to out-qualify his teammate and get that elusive first career victory. Whether Perez and Sainz get themselves into championship contention this year still remains to be seen, but with the ultra close performance of Red Bull and Ferrari, they will play a significant role in the Leclerc and Verstappen fight if it continues like this.

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