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International media react: Praise for Leclerc/Verstappen, concern for Mercedes

Various international media outlets have given their take on the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, in which Max Verstappen won a close battle with Charles Leclerc to take his first victory of the season.

It might be early days in the 2022 F1 campaign, but the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix provided plenty of talking points about what might happen in the races to come. A fierce battle for the lead unfolded between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, just as it had in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix one week earlier. On this occasion, though, it was Verstappen who came out on top. The Dutchman claimed his first victory of the year, and this fight has already sparked excitement amongst various international media outlets.

Leclerc and Verstappen's "magnificent" battle

French publication L'Equipe hailed the fight between Verstappen and Leclerc as "magnificent", adding: "Virile and intelligent, it lit up the weekend and enabled the World Champion, the skilful winner, to move up in the rankings behind his Monegasque rival." Meanwhile, in Italy, there was particular praise for Verstappen in La Gazzetta dello Sport . "Max Verstappen was the strongest in the end, brushing aside Red Bull's flop at the Bahrain Grand Prix," the outlet wrote. "He took victory in difficult conditions. He drove around the problems after starting from P4, exactly the way real champions do!" The Corriere dello Sport , though, argued that the two drivers proved they are very much on a par: "Verstappen kicked in a nice door with his first win of this year. "He showed with it that the battle this year is between him and Leclerc. It's great to see two teams building two completely different cars that are so closely matched. "Verstappen and Leclerc drove flawlessly and sometimes deviously, as we saw when braking just before the DRS zone. Verstappen drove a phenomenal race, but found his match in Leclerc. They are battling each other in every little detail this year."

British outlet the BBC labelled Leclerc and Verstappen as "the vanguards of the sport's new generation of drivers" following their "at turns tense and frantic" duel on the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. "The race was given an extra dimension by Verstappen and Leclerc playing chicken with the DRS overtaking zones," they wrote. "For Leclerc, it is his first time in an F1 championship battle. That he has the speed and skill to take on Verstappen, though, is not in doubt." However, as well as detailing the thrilling action on track, there was also an acknowledgement of the pre-race discussions that took place amongst the drivers and officials in the sport on Friday, in the wake of a missile attack on a nearby oil depot. "The excitement of the racing only went so far in being the distraction the sport's bosses had said they wanted from the overarching theme of the weekend - should F1 be racing in Saudi Arabia at all?" the BBC asked.

Concern for Mercedes as Hamilton becomes "frustrated understudy"

Elsewhere in the field, some British media outlets expressed concern over Mercedes' prospects following a difficult weekend for the Silver Arrows. George Russell managed to come home in fifth after a lonely race, whilst it proved to be a challenging few days for Lewis Hamilton, who started the Grand Prix down in 15th and, at the end of it all, came away with just one point in 10th. "The big concern for Mercedes is that they still don't have the answers they need to unlock the pace they believe they have in the car - and are still not sure it is there at all," the BBC added, before warning that, should Leclerc and Verstappen's winning streak continue, Hamilton "will have an almost impossible amount of ground to make up". At The Guardian , there was a downbeat take on Hamilton's role in the Grand Prix. "A long toil yielded almost nothing, the seven-time World Champion's role reduced to that of a bit part, of frustrated understudy to the leads whom he longs to join," they wrote.

Battle for "team supremacy" at Alpine?

In the Spanish media, Marca focused on the intense scrap that took place between Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon in the early stages of the race. The publication warned that Alpine "must sort out priorities" with their drivers before the issue can "become a problem", adding: "The image of the embrace in Hungary last summer between Fernando Alonso, who defended Esteban Ocon's victory like a lion, seems to be a far cry from what happened yesterday in Saudi Arabia." Marca went on to suggest that Ocon "seems to want team supremacy when they are still not even fighting for podiums", hinting at a potentially feisty inter-team battle developing.

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