Canadian Grand Prix | Leclerc vs. Verstappen: the fight that is no longer one

Lewis Hamilton was expected against Max Verstappen this season. Then Verstappen against Charles Leclerc. Here we are rather at the heart of a fratricidal duel at Red Bull between Verstappen and Sergio Pérez.

Posted at 6:00 am

Katherine Harvey Pinard

Katherine Harvey Pinard
Press

Last weekend, Charles Leclerc had to retire when smoke came out of his engine at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. It was his second retirement in three races, a blow to his title run.

But Leclerc and his Ferrari will want to bounce back quickly in Montreal in front of a crowd won over since Gilles Villeneuve. Perhaps to send a message: the future of Formula 1 goes through Leclerc and Verstappen. The shock will wait, but it will eventually come.

On the one hand, the reigning world champion, Verstappen. A 24-year-old Dutchman who has developed at lightning speed since he entered the circuit at the age of 17. He already has 66 podiums in 149 Grand Prix. Raised in Formula 1 with his father Jos, he moved from the Toro Rosso development team to Red Bull in 2016.

On the other, a 24-year-old Monegasque who only had 13 podiums in 81 races at the start of the season, but who was expected to reach the top one day or another. A driver who finally enjoys a high-performance car after two difficult years. A charismatic athlete who can finally show the extent of his talent.

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Photo NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA, archive Agence France-Presse

Charles Leclerc

The new generation. Verstappen has 150 points, Leclerc has 116.

The portrait can change quickly in Formula 1. It is also the Ferrari driver who was in the lead until two weeks ago.

Leclerc started the season strong by winning the first Grand Prix in Bahrain. Verstappen, chasing him all the way, had to retire with three laps to go due to various problems with his car.

Seven days later, it was he who claimed his first win of the season after playing cat and mouse with Leclerc in the final laps at the fast circuit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Red Bull thus opened its season.

The two rivals showed up in Melbourne, Australia, each with a win on the clock. And it was Leclerc, dominant, who had the last word. He also became the first Ferrari driver since Fernando Alonso in 2010 to achieve the Grand Slam (first in qualifying, first in race and fastest lap) in a car race. Verstappen, again the victim of a mechanical failure, had to retire at 39me back when he had been in second place until then.

Verstappen’s triumphs

The next three Grands Prix were Verstappen’s story. The Dutchman completely dominated the Emilia-Romagna race as Leclerc, guilty of an error, was relegated to sixth position. Verstappen then rode a clean round in the scorching Miami heat to claim the first Florida Grand Prix in F1 history. In front of Leclerc.

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Photo BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI, Agence France-Presse archive

max verstappen

This same Leclerc, affected by a mechanical problem, retired at 27me tour in Spain. His rival took the opportunity to take his third victory in a row and take first place in the drivers’ championship.

The action then moved to Leclerc’s home Monaco. For the first time this season, neither the Monegasque nor the Dutchman were the first to cross the finish line. Instead, it was fellow Red Bull driver Sergio Perez who took his third career victory from him and invited himself into the title race.

The Ferrari team made a big mistake on 22me turn asking Leclerc, then first, to enter the pits when Carlos Sainz Jr. was already there. The Monegasque, furious, had to settle for fourth place, only behind Verstappen.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was the fatal blow: the withdrawal of Leclerc’s Ferrari, added to Pérez’s second place, turned the hierarchy upside down. So here we are at the center of an internal rivalry at Red Bull.

Perez on the run

If Pérez evolves in the shadow of Verstappen since his arrival at Red Bull, he is still an experienced driver. With one win and five podium finishes this season, “Checo” nudges the leader.

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Photo NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA, archive Agence France-Presse

Sergio Perez

“He’s in the race as much as Max,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky Sports. The difference between the two is nothing. He and Max have been much closer this year. »

Pérez signed a two-year contract extension in May. Since he joined Red Bull last season, the 32-year-old has been an excellent teammate for his young colleague. Just remember the last race of the 2021 season, when he slowed down Lewis Hamilton to allow Verstappen to close his gap with Mercedes.

“He’s an amazing teammate,” Verstappen said after winning his first career title.

As proof, on May 22, in Spain, Pérez was leading the race when he was ordered to let Verstappen overtake him at 49me round. He obeyed. But will he always be so conciliatory?

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