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Could Verstappen have beaten Leclerc with a smarter approach?

Max Verstappen was outwitted by Charles Leclerc in wheel-to-wheel combat during the Bahrain Grand Prix, but could the reigning World Champion have taken a different approach to the battle?

The season-opening Grand Prix in Bahrain provided a hugely entertaining spectacle as Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Red Bull's Max Verstappen went head-to-head over several laps after the first round of pit-stops. With Verstappen playing a waiting game in the first stint of the race, his attempted undercut on Leclerc almost worked as the Ferrari emerged back onto the track on Lap 15 of 57 just metres in front of the Red Bull. Verstappen would line up Leclerc and pass him down the main straight later that lap, only for Leclerc to regroup and repass him moments later using DRS down the next straight. A lap later, Verstappen did the exact same thing. This time, he locked up into Turn 1 and flat-spotted his right-front tyre and, again, was powerless to defend against Leclerc on the run to Turn 4. Onboard footage released by Formula 1 has since shown that Leclerc cannily opted against using eighth gear down the main straight – essentially allowing Verstappen to overtake into Turn 1, but ensuring that he would have the DRS to fight back down the next straight. It was a masterful display from Leclerc, and a huge statement of intent as the Ferrari driver won out against the World Champion before Verstappen's eventual retirement from the race. The question of whether Verstappen could have raced with a smarter approach came up during the latest RacingNews365.com F1 podcast, with journalists Dieter Rencken and Mike Seymour discussing the topic alongside host Thomas Maher.

Rencken: Verstappen still shows some hot-headedness

With Lewis Hamilton driving to a measured third-place finish as Verstappen retired, Rencken pondered whether Verstappen could have been in a position to lead the race from quite early on – something that might just have prevented his eventual retirement, had he been able to run in cooler air out front. "I think the difference between Lewis' race and Max's race, pre-retirement, was that Lewis drove a very shrewd race," Rencken said. "Max still tends to be a bit hot-headed. I believe that if he had played the Leclerc fight a bit differently, he could actually have come out ahead. "Of course, he would still have retired in the interim, but he would have been on course for victory. And I think that there's that element to it."

Seymour: I was surprised Verstappen didn't mix things up

Seymour commented that he felt a better approach, after the first attempt, would have been to sit behind the Ferrari through Turn 1 and make use of the DRS on the run up to Turn 4. "I was surprised; I really thought that he'd mix it up and cotton onto it straight away," Seymour said. "For Max to be repeating it - it was great on TV for everyone watching, because we were seeing wheel-to-wheel action, lap after lap, three times in a row - but I was a little bit surprised and thought maybe Verstappen would mix it up and realise that sitting behind at Turn 1 would have been the better approach, and to nail Leclerc into Turn 4. "It seemed like Verstappen had the legs over the rest of the lap, because he was really putting pressure on Leclerc through the final sector, down the main straight, and pulling off those moves repeatedly. "Had he got ahead at Turn 4 and pulled away, and broken clear, maybe it would have been a different story. But it was a great battle overall anyway, and let's hope for plenty more!"

A statement of intent for the rest of the season?

Seymour reckons the battle could serve as a show of strength from Leclerc, and a line in the sand given that the two drivers may well head into a season-long championship fight. "I think we saw the first glimpse of what could happen as the year goes on, on Sunday," he added. "Leclerc isn't going to give in, he's not going to yield. That chop across the front of Verstappen's car was pretty firm and on the limit, so he's made a clear statement there and he's ready to race – and race cleverly as well. "He really did outsmart Verstappen on Sunday, so that was a little bit of a marker there. [Now] I hope they keep it clean!" The RacingNews365.com F1 Podcast is now available on YouTube! Check it out, and be sure to subscribe to our channel!

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