The second round of the Formula 1 World Championship confirmed that the new season looks set to feature a tight battle between 2021 Champion Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
With Mercedes continuing to struggle with their car, this was a second weekend during which Red Bull Racing and Ferrari battled for supremacy.
After Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez led the early part of the race the remainder of the Grand Prix featured a closely contested battle between Leclerc and Verstappen, the Dutch World Champion ultimately winning after the pair swapped overtaking manoeuvres between laps 42 and 46.
“This was a fantastic fight for the victory,” says Mika Hakkinen. “We saw the very best of Charles and Max out there, and it’s great to see how evenly matched they are. There is clearly a good level of respect between them and they trust each other when racing so closely.
“The way they both used the DRS (drag reduction system) to try and give themselves a strategic advantage on each lap was fascinating, but ultimately Charles was unable to break away from Max. I thought Max timed everything just perfectly in the end, although to win by half a second after 300kms of racing shows just how close their battle is.
“After two races we can see that there has been a power shift in Formula 1. We knew from the opening race in Bahrain that Charles Leclerc is looking incredibly strong at Ferrari, well supported by team mate Carlos Sainz. But now that Red Bull seems to have to have solved the fuel vaporisation problem which caused both cars to return from the first race, they are just as competitive.
“It’s brilliant to see Ferrari and Red Bull so closely matched, so the question is now to see which one of them can develop their car more quickly. The development race Monday to Saturday is going to really determine who wins on the Sunday.”
To emphasise their return to form, Red Bull claimed pole position on Saturday, although this time is was Perez who drove the perfect lap. After dominating the opening stages of the race, the Mexican was dropped to 3rd when a pit stop was immediately followed by a badly timed Safety Car period.
“It was really satisfying to see Checo score his first pole position in Formula 1. Eleven years, 220 Grand Prixs, is a long time to wait for that, but you need a competitive car under you and he is really making the most of that opportunity. It shows how much confidence he has in the car, and it’s good news for Red Bull that Checo is able to push the performance to the limit.
“The Safety Car timing was a disaster for him, but these things happen and you just have to stay focused and try to recover. To lose out to Carlos Sainz and drop to 4th just added to his disappointment, but I think Checo can take a lot of positives away from this weekend. it will give him even more confidence to have put that first pole position behind him.”
Although George Russell finished 5th for Mercedes, 7-times World Champion Lewis Hamilton ended the race in 10th position following a delayed pit stop.
“Mercedes have a significant set of problems to fix if they are to catch up with Red Bull and Ferrari. They need to do it quite quickly because the top two teams are going to be pushing so hard on their own development,” says Hakkinen. “It was very strange to see the Mercedes cars starting 6th and 16th, with Lewis Hamilton clearly unhappy with the set up of his car.”