Formula 1

Analyzing Charles Leclerc’s Duel with Max Verstappen at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Insights from Alpine's Data Engineer and the Intense Battle for First Place in the 2023 Season Finale

In the high-stakes arena of Formula 1, every move on the track can make the difference between victory and defeat. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a thrilling culmination to the 2023 season, witnessed an intense battle for first place between Charles Leclerc and reigning World Champion Max Verstappen. Alpine’s data engineer, Ramon Drost, had some intriguing insights to share regarding Leclerc’s approach during this showdown.

The race began with Charles Leclerc starting from the second position on the grid, hot on the heels of Verstappen, who had secured the pole position. Leclerc’s intentions were clear: challenge the Dutchman at Turn 1 and later at Turn 6, with the hope of seizing the lead.

On two critical occasions during the opening lap, Leclerc attempted to overtake Verstappen, but the outcome was not as he had envisioned. In both instances, Verstappen emerged victorious, despite a fleeting moment where the Ferrari driver had his nose ahead. Unfortunately for Leclerc, his battle for the lead came to an end by the conclusion of the first lap, as Verstappen managed to create a gap of more than a second.

Max Verstappen’s dominance in the race was undeniable, as he clinched his 19th victory of the 2023 season, securing the World Championship title. He finished the race with an impressive 17-second lead over Leclerc, leaving no room for doubt about his supremacy on the track.

For Charles Leclerc, this marked his third winless season out of five with Ferrari, a disappointment for both the driver and the team. The intense rivalry between Ferrari and Mercedes added an extra layer of intrigue to this race, with Ferrari aiming to block Mercedes from achieving a specific points target. Unfortunately for the Scuderia, they fell just three points short of their goal.

However, it wasn’t all gloom and doom for Leclerc. His determined efforts on the track earned him a respectable 18 points in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. These valuable points allowed him to climb to fifth place in the Drivers’ Standings, surpassing the likes of Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz.

Among various observations, Drost highlighted that Leclerc’s challenge seemed to make it relatively straightforward for Verstappen, lacking the intensity of a true battle for the lead. In his discussion with, he elaborated:

“I actually think Leclerc hit the brakes too early, especially in Turn 1.

“And he made the same kind of mistake later on the track.

“It’s more like ‘just show that you’re there’, because if you don’t do that, Max will go for it. He can hold his own.

“That is of course what you have to show to get the first position there.

“I had the feeling that Leclerc reacted a little too softly there, which caused him to miss the lead.”

Leclerc clarified his intentions, explaining that although he had the desire to engage Verstappen in a battle for the lead, his primary focus remained on aiding Ferrari in their pursuit to surpass Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship for the coveted second place. He stated:

“I obviously wanted to try and get that first place.

“But we also know that in the race, we lack some pace compared to them.

“So even if I would have passed Max there, I probably would have gotten overtaken again, three or four laps later.

“And in the end, my only target was to beat the Mercedes. So I didn’t want to lose too much tyre juice and also time with Max. But yeah, it was fun.”

In the world of Formula 1, where milliseconds and strategic decisions matter, the battle for supremacy is relentless. While Charles Leclerc’s attempt to challenge Max Verstappen may not have yielded victory in Abu Dhabi, it showcased the unwavering spirit and determination that define this exhilarating sport.

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