‘Leclerc immediately cracked’: Ferrari should be worried after Verstappen’s Miami victory

Max Verstappen passed Charles Leclerc early on in the Miami Grand Prix on his way to victory.

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in Miami 2022.v1

Former Formula 1 driver Jolyon Palmer believes Charles Leclerc made Max Verstappen’s life a little too easy in Miami as the Dutchman passed him for the lead and, ultimately, the win.

Leclerc grabbed pole in Florida after capitalising on a mistake by Verstappen on his final run, and Carlos Sainz also swooped in to secure Ferrari’s first front-two qualifying lockout since Japan 2019, and the first all-Ferrari front-row start since Mexico that year.

However, the reigning champion found his way past Sainz on the first lap, and splitting the Prancing Horses was crucial in his pursuit of victory.

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He set off after the Monegasque and passed him in the first stint, before surviving a late Safety Car period to bring home a terrific victory for his Red Bull team.

Palmer believes the Scuderia should be concerned by Verstappen’s ability to punish them even on tracks that are inherently tough to pass at, and also suggests that Leclerc could have got his elbows out a little more during the Red Bull driver’s pass for the lead.

“The worry for Ferrari at the moment though must be the manner with which Verstappen is able to beat them, even when he starts behind both cars, and on a Miami circuit which the majority of the other drivers found tricky to overtake on without a significant tyre offset,” he said on his Formula 1 column.

“Verstappen didn’t rely on team tactics or strategy for the win either, he outmuscled Sainz at the first corner to immediately split the Ferraris. 

“Sainz was a bit hampered by his inside line and being boxed in by Leclerc at the apex, but could he have been a bit more aggressive in squeezing Verstappen before the braking zone?

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“This move was essential for Verstappen’s win. A front row lock out is such a dangerous advantage for a team because it gives them the strategic options to cover off the nearest threat in the pit stop phase.”

The Briton indicated that, as soon as Leclerc saw his title rival in his wing mirrors, he succumbed to the pressure and made a mistake.

“At the end of Lap eight Verstappen was within DRS range of Leclerc, in a Red Bull that is quick on the straights, the pressure was beginning to mount on Leclerc who was just showing signs of struggling with his front tyres,” he explained.

“Leclerc immediately cracked, running wide at Turn 17 as soon as Verstappen loomed large in the Ferrari’s mirrors. This gave the Dutchman a brilliant opportunity to pass, which became a slam dunk when Leclerc gifted Verstappen the inside line into Turn 1. 

“Passes for the race lead don’t come much easier than that, particularly against a driver who is almost certainly Leclerc’s main title rival.”

The title battle this year has, so far at least, been a lot more placid than Verstappen’s fight with Sir Lewis Hamilton last season, but Palmer thinks that a little too much respect was shown by Leclerc last weekend.

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“After all the drama of his Hamilton title fight in 2021, Verstappen must be appreciating this fight so far with both drivers being extremely respectful of one another, but Leclerc in Miami was surely too generous,” he added.

A recurring theme of the on-track squabbles between the two championship protagonists has been a tactical battle for DRS, and Palmer theorises that Leclerc was trying to give himself DRS later in the lap.

However, the next DRS zone after Turn One does not arrive until the exit of Turn eight, and Verstappen took full advantage.

“Maybe he was hoping to get the DRS on the long straights next lap, but unlike in Bahrain or Jeddah where that tactic worked, the next DRS wasn’t on the corner exit – but seven turns later, Verstappen could break clear, and did,” affirmed Palmer.

Verstappen’s win in Miami puts him 19 points behind Leclerc in the Drivers’ Standings after five rounds, but better reliability might easily have seen him in the lead.