Max Verstappen told ‘he can play with Charles Leclerc’

Max Verstappen currently has an 80-point lead in the Drivers' Championship over Charles Leclerc.

With Charles Leclerc having lost the race lead nine times this season through reliability problems, strategic and driver errors, Max Verstappen has amassed an arguably uncatchable lead in the Drivers’ Championship.

Red Bull Racing have taken the fight to Ferrari and pushed the Scuderia into countless errors.

Between Verstappen and Sergio Pérez, Red Bull Racing have won nine races out of a possible 13 this season, whereas Ferrari have four.

Verstappen alone has won eight times already this season, putting him in the perfect position to retain his 2021 Drivers’ Championship.

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Ex-F1 driver Mika Salo told that Verstappen is the “perfect driver”, allowing him to “play” with Leclerc.

“Max has a lot more self-confidence,” Salo suggested.

“He already has a title in his pocket and constantly wins races. That self-confidence is Max’s strongest point.

“He doesn’t make any mistakes anymore, whereas a few years ago he sometimes did. That is completely gone now. Max is the perfect driver and he can play with Leclerc because of that.”

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At an early stage of the season it appeared like Verstappen would be challenged by his own team-mate for the 2022 World Championship; however, Pérez has fallen away since winning the Monaco Grand Prix.

Salo puts this down to the RB18 suiting the Dutchman better than the Mexican, with the latter unable to “keep up”.

“The Red Bull suits Max very well and he drives it brilliantly,” Salo explained.

“Sergio Perez can’t keep up with him at the moment either. He was closer at the beginning of the season, but the gap is now very big again. I think Max has the car and tactics much better under control.”

Verstappen’s sheer dominance has possibly led to Ferrari making so many strategic blunders, with Leclerc usually being the victim of them.

Salo has put Red Bull’s dominance in the championship this season down to “more experience”, with Leclerc clearly having less confidence in his Italian team following their endless errors.

“I think at Red Bull there is more experience, also in working with Max,” he continued.

“Leclerc is still a bit more uncertain. He has less confidence because things go wrong so often and he feels less support from the team. For him, it must almost feel like waiting to see what would go wrong next.

“That while Max knows he has a good car, which is fast, and his team also rarely make mistakes. That makes a big difference.”

With Verstappen taking an 80-point lead over Leclerc into the second half of the season, Salo doesn’t see how the Monegasque could beat the Dutchman to the title.

Verstappen could miss the entirety of the upcoming triple-header, and still lead the championship.

“It will be very difficult,” the Finn commented.

“Verstappen would have to be really unlucky, but Max is in an excellent position. There are not that many races left and he knows he doesn’t even need to win races to become champion. It’s not in his DNA to be second, he wants to win every race.”

It’s likely that Red Bull will also claim their first Constructors’ crown since 2013, with Salo expecting the Austrian team to “dominate”, unless their competitors can get their “act together”.

“It looks like Red Bull will take all the prizes and dominate,” Salo continued.

“However, I hope Mercedes and Ferrari get their act together and challenge Red Bull. We all want to see good races. I don’t care who wins, I want to enjoy the races and the entertainment.”

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Only Red Bull and Ferrari have claimed victory this season, with the Mercedes F1 Team yet to do so in 2022.

They have come close on a few occasions now; however, Salo reckons it may take Verstappen and Leclerc to tangle with each other for the Silver Arrows to claim their first win of the season.

“Mercedes may be able to win a race if Max and Charles get in each other’s way once, or Mercedes have a perfect strategy and some luck.”