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Verstappen tipped to change approach when racing against Leclerc

Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen shared an epic battle for the win in Bahrain, with the net lead of the race changing hands six times – but it ended in a 26-point swing in Leclerc's favour.

Max Verstappen will have to rethink his strategy for racing against Charles Leclerc, with the Monegasque yet to forgive him for battles of the past, according to ex-F1 driver Anthony Davidson. It was advantage-Leclerc after the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, where the Ferrari driver outsmarted his Red Bull rival during an epic three-lap battle that saw the lead of the race change hands six times. Three laps in a row, Verstappen threw his car up the inside of Turn 1, snatching the lead away from Leclerc after closing the gap during the pit-stop phase. However, onboard footage from Leclerc's car showed that he did not use eighth gear down the circuit's main straight, allowing Verstappen to overtake him ahead of the DRS detection line, before using the DRS advantage to wrestle the lead back. In the end, the battle meant nothing, with Verstappen forced to retire his car during the final laps due to a fuel pump issue – handing Leclerc a 26-point advantage heading to the second race of the new season.

Davidson: Leclerc/Verstappen scrap stems back to Austria 2019

Ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Leclerc was asked how he would go about battling a driver such as Verstappen, given his reputation for "not yielding". He replied: "I don't yield either." The pair have battled for positions numerous times since arriving in F1, most famously in 2019 when Verstappen forcefully took the lead from Leclerc during the final laps of the Austrian Grand Prix. And that day has played a part in shaping the battle that looks set to rage on throughout the 2022 season, reckons Davidson, including at the upcoming Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. "With two or three laps remaining, he [Verstappen] had a go at the Turn 3 hairpin, didn't make it stick the first time, because he didn't really squeeze Charles and gave him room around the outside, and Charles came back – and that was all fair," Davidson told Sky Sports F1 . "The next lap, however, he pushed him off the track and I don't think Charles has ever forgiven him for that. "I think Charles, every time he is with Max now, treats him differently, and that's what I immediately saw come into play in Bahrain."

Davidson tips Verstappen for rethink on Leclerc

During the build up to the second round of the new F1 season, Davidson says Verstappen will have to reassess how he battles with Leclerc in preparation for many more fights to come. "Max is going to have to rethink how he races him, I think, going forward from here – it is going to be interesting," he said. But it remains to be seen who will be armed with the faster car in Saudi Arabia, after Ferrari appeared to hold a slender advantage in Bahrain. Davidson continued: "Jeddah is a fast, flowing track, very smooth and I do expect there to be a shake up in the order, naturally. "Perhaps Mercedes will be a bit closer to the front of the competition, for example; they may be able to run their car lower to the ground, which is a bit of an Achilles' heel for them. "Maybe Red Bull will be the best car in Jeddah and Ferrari will be lagging just that bit behind."

Bahrain only the latest instalment of Verstappen vs Leclerc

The two young drivers, born only 16 days apart, have found themselves fighting for the same tarmac throughout their racing careers. In 2010 and 2011, Verstappen beat Leclerc to the European Junior World Super Karts Championship before Leclerc finally became champion in 2012. In their final year of Karts, Verstappen was crowned FIA World Karting Champion (KZ1), with Leclerc finishing as runner-up. From there, Verstappen was fast-tracked through Formula 3 to F1 in less than two years, while Leclerc embarked on a five-year journey to the top via Formula Renault, Formula 3, GP3 and Formula 2.

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