“On the hard tyre I had a much better feeling,” Verstappen said. “I tried to stay with Charles after the safety car restart, trying to keep the gap the same, that was basically it, trying to match the lap times, trying to get a bit closer, then he was pulling away a bit, I got a bit closer. Then we had the VSC at the end, then it’s always a question mark what would happen with the tyres because they cool down a lot, but it seems we had a good first three laps on that restart.
“I had a good feeling with the car and the tyres were holding on quite well through the high speed. Then I had a few good opportunities, but Charles really played it smart in the last corner so it was not easy for me to actually get by, and of course then I had to line myself up again to have another go, and eventually I had a go and got ahead.”
That wasn’t the end of the fight, though. Leclerc could stay close and with DRS was a threat, forcing Verstappen to defend.
“Once I got ahead it was like four laps flat out trying to stay ahead because Charles was consistently in my DRS. It was quite tough out there.”
Albon’s lunge left his Williams with terminal damage
Antonin Vincent / DPPI
Describing them as “qualifying laps”, Verstappen was helped by one last bit of action. Alex Albon lunged down the inside of Lance Stroll at Turn 1 on the penultimate lap and the pair collided, with Albon forced to park his car in the first sector. The incident was covered by yellow flags – that would lead to a later investigation into all drivers in the final two laps but resulted in no further action – but it also saw DRS disabled on the pit straight.
At the time, Leclerc was lining up a response, but the 0.7sec gap was too big to close without the overtaking aid.
“I definitely enjoyed the fight, it’s obviously disappointing to lose the win so late in the race but it was a fun fight,” Leclerc said. “It was very difficult as we had two cars that were in a very different place, I was very strong in the first sector, all the corners, and basically much less strong in the straights.
“It was very tricky, I tried to have the DRS in the last corner, it worked twice but didn’t the last time. Then we had the yellow flag, the one where I could have had a chance to be alongside into Turn 1, I had no DRS there, a bit of a shame, but it’s part of the game.”
Half a second between the leaders at the finish
Mark Thompson/Getty Images
Leclerc could still use DRS in the latter half of the lap and on the final lap got close as it came down to the very last corner, but he was too far back to commit to a move and had to settle for second by just 0.5sec.
Sainz comfortably held on for third ahead of a frustrated Perez, while Russell’s strong start continued with a lonely run to fifth. There was at least some cheer for McLaren as Lando Norris was more competitive in finishing seventh, just failing to emulate Bottas as he attacked Esteban Ocon out of the final corner for sixth but fell 0.1sec short.
Leclerc described the duel as a “fun fight”
Eric Alonso/Getty Images
Pierre Gasly, Magnussen and Hamilton rounded out the top ten, with Hamilton bizarrely asking his race engineer Peter Bonnington after the race: “Is there even a point for that position?”
It’s a rapid fall for Mercedes after Hamilton won here last year, but the baton has been picked up by Ferrari and Leclerc who more than played their part in a thrilling fight. The cars allow close racing, the teams are closely matched, and all signs are there will be plenty more Verstappen v Leclerc fights this season.
And this was one in a race that nearly didn’t happen…