Mika Salo has given his take on the 2022 title battle between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc – and the key differences between the two drivers.
Much of the spectacle of the season so far has centred on the performances of Verstappen and Leclerc, with their exciting battles such as those in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain interspersed with scrapes and errors on the part of Leclerc and Ferrari.
Former F1 driver Salo, currently active as an FIA steward, is enjoying the fight between the pair. In an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com, he gives his views on the difference between the two title contenders.
Salo on confidence levels in Verstappen and Leclerc
"The Red Bull suits Max very well and he drives it brilliantly," Salo explained.
"Sergio Perez can't keep up with him at the moment either. He was closer at the beginning of the season, but the gap is now very big again. I think Max has the car and tactics much better under control."
Verstappen has nothing to fear from Perez in the title fight, but the threat from Leclerc also seems to have disappeared. What are the main differences between the two drivers?
"Max has a lot more self-confidence," Salo suggests.
"He already has a title in his pocket and constantly wins races. That self-confidence is Max's strongest point.
"He doesn't make any mistakes anymore, whereas a few years ago he sometimes did. That is completely gone now. Max is the perfect driver and he can play with Leclerc because of that."
Whereas things seem to go like clockwork at Red Bull, Ferrari and Leclerc struggle with consistency, says Salo: "I think at Red Bull there is more experience, also in working with Max.
"Leclerc is still a bit more uncertain. He has less confidence because things go wrong so often and he feels less support from the team. For him, it must almost feel like waiting to see what would go wrong next.
"That while Max knows he has a good car, which is fast, and his team also rarely make mistakes. That makes a big difference."
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Salo expects Red Bull to dominate rest of 2022
When the F1 season resumes following the summer break, there will still be nine races to go. While Verstappen's 80-point advantage over Leclerc makes it theoretically possible for the Monegasque to catch him, Salo does not expect this to happen.
"It will be very difficult," the Finn commented.
"Verstappen would have to be really unlucky, but Max is in an excellent position. There are not that many races left and he knows he doesn't even need to win races to become champion. It's not in his DNA to be second, he wants to win every race."
In doing so, Salo predicts that Mercedes may well take advantage: "Mercedes may be able to win a race if Max and Charles get in each other's way once, or Mercedes have a perfect strategy and some luck."
The world titles? Those will both go with them to Milton Keynes, where they will find a place in Red Bull's trophy cabinet, Salo expects.
"It looks like Red Bull will take all the prizes and dominate," Salo continued.
"However, I hope Mercedes and Ferrari get their act together and challenge Red Bull. We all want to see good races. I don't care who wins, I want to enjoy the races and the entertainment."
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