Canadian Grand Prix | Leclerc against 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 more in the middle of a brother duel at Red Bull between Verstappen and Sergio Pérez.

Posted at 6:00 am

Catherine Harvey Pinard

Katherine Harvey Pinard
The press

Last weekend, Charles Leclerc was forced to retire after smoke billowed from his engine at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. It was his second retirement in three races, a blow in his title hunt.

But Leclerc and his Ferrari will want to bounce back quickly in Montreal in front of an audience that has been conquered since Gilles Villeneuve. Maybe to send a message: The future of Formula 1 actually goes through Leclerc and Verstappen. The shock will wait, but will eventually come.

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

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

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 strongly by winning the first Grand Prix in Bahrain. Verstappen, who was chasing him the entire time, had to retire with three laps to go due to various problems with his car.

It was seven days later that he clinched his first win of the season after playing cat and mouse with Leclerc on the final laps at the fast Jeddah Circuit, Saudi Arabia. This is how Red Bull started the season.

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

Verstappen’s triumphs

The next three Grands Prix were Verstappen’s history. The Dutchman completely dominated the Emilia-Romagna race as Leclerc, guilty of a mistake, was relegated to sixth place. Verstappen then drove a clean lap in the sweltering Miami heat to win the first Florida Grand Prix in F1 history. Before Leclerc.

Photo BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI, Agence France-Presse archives

Max Verstappen

The same Leclerc, struck by a mechanical problem, retired at 27e Tour in Spain. His rival took the opportunity to claim his third straight win and take first place in the drivers’ standings.

The action then moved to Monaco, home of Leclerc. For the first time this season, neither the Monegasque nor the Dutchman crossed the finish line first. Instead, it was the other Red Bull driver, Sergio Pérez, who clinched his third career win and invited himself to the title race.

The Ferrari team is at the 22e again by asking Leclerc, then first to enter the box when Carlos Sainz Jr. was already there. The furious Monegasse had to settle for fourth place, just behind Verstappen.

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

Perez in the race

If Pérez has been developing in Verstappen’s shadow since his arrival at Red Bull, he remains an experienced driver. With one win and five podiums this season, “Checo” is pushing to the top.

Photo NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA, archive Agence France-Presse

Sergio Perez

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

Pérez signed a two-year contract extension in May. Since joining Red Bull last season, the 32-year-old has been an excellent team-mate for his young colleague. Just remember the final race of the 2021 season when he put the brakes on Lewis Hamilton to allow Verstappen to close his gap on Mercedes.

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

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

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