Charles Leclerc missed out on victory in the 2022 Saudi Arabian GP by just 0.549s in an exhilarating late-race duel with Max Verstappen – and though he was disappointed, the Ferrari driver clearly relished his wheel-to-wheel bout with the reigning champion.
Leclerc took the lead after pitting under the first Safety Car, after pole-sitter Sergio Perez had taken the decision to pit just a lap prior to that in green flag conditions. With the advantage, the Bahrain GP winner seemed to be cruising to victory over Verstappen behind – but the Red Bull driver closed in after a late Virtual Safety Car and passed Leclerc for the lead after an incredible late-race duel.
“It wasn’t enough today but oh my god, I really enjoyed the race,” said Leclerc. “Again, it was hard racing but fair. Every race should be like this. It was fun. I am of course disappointed – I wanted to win today. It was very, very tricky. I tried to have the DRS in the last corner. It worked twice, but it didn’t the last time.
“We were quick in the corners but quite slow in the straights because we put more downforce, so it was extremely difficult to cover Max in the straights. But it’s like this – he did a great job and it was a fun race.”
A late yellow flag, triggered by an accident between Alex Albon – who has been penalised three grid slots for the Australian Grand Prix – and Lance Stroll, compromised Leclerc’s efforts to pass Verstappen at the end of the race, as the Monegasque driver continued to explain.
“Obviously there was this yellow flag… where I could have had the chance to be alongside… Into Turn 1, where I had no DRS there – so this was a little bit of a shame but it’s part of the game and yes, we’ll try again next race,” he said.
As for whether there is a mutual respect between him and the Dutchman, given their on-the-limit duel in Jeddah, Leclerc added: “Yes, it’s always been there. Especially when you finish a race like this. We are in a street track, we’ve been pushing… and we take risks at the end – so of course there is respect, but a bit disappointed.”