World champion Max Verstappen admitted he was relieved to secure his first win of the season after battling to a thrilling victory ahead of old rival Charles Leclerc in Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The 24-year-old Dutchman said it had been a difficult, but good race and it showed that this season’s title battle “will be super-close between the two of us” after he won by just half a second ahead of the Ferrari.
“It was a tricky one,” said the Red Bull driver.
“We were battling hard at the front and we just had to play the long game. They were really quick through the corners, but we were quick on the straight.
“The tyres were wearing out quite quick around here so you could see, at the end, I think we just had a little more pace and I just tried to get by.”
Verstappen added that he had to learn to be patient to make the most of his car’s ‘new era’ performance.
“It wasn’t easy, they were playing smart tricks in the last corner, but eventually I managed to get ahead.
“With the yellow flags on the last lap, just knowing how much you should lift and what is allowed or not, it was tough,” he added.
“But I’m really happy that we’ve finally kick-started the season – it was like four qualifying laps at the end.
“I had to wait. I wanted to go past him, but I wanted to win and not take too many risks so I had to work it out and take my chance.”
Leclerc congratulated his rival on his victory on their slow-down laps, but after two races remains the embryonic championship’s early season leader by 12 points.
“We had two very different configurations with the Red Bulls. We were quite quick in the corners, but slow on straights. It was extremely difficult for me to cover Max in the straight. He did a great job It was a fun race!”
He added that there was respect between the two early-season championship contenders.
“It’s always been there and especially when you finish a race like this on a street track. We’ve been pushing like I’ve rarely pushed before – taking risks… Of course, there’s respect!”