Verstappen currently ‘one step better’ than Leclerc

Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc have, between them, won all of the first five races of the 2022 season.

Former Formula 1 driver Shinji Nakano believes that Max Verstappen’s ability is slightly edging Charles Leclerc’s at present.

The new technical regulations and the subsequent re-introduction of ground effect aerodynamics required new thinking and evolved philosophies, not just from the teams, but the drivers too.

It is patently not so easy for the drivers to swing the cars into corners any more due to the reduced aerodynamic efficiency of the machines, and adjusting driving style accordingly is a big part of extracting performance as a result.

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Staying closer to the car in front through corners has become easier too, and this is the reason we have seen some “smart tricks” from the title protagonists as they vie for DRS advantage.

There are multiple facets of driving techniques that can be distinguished from previous years, but Nakano points to the drivers’ ability to maintain car balance through the corners as a key one.

Leclerc span in Imola while chasing down Sergio Pere after taking too much kerb, and Carlos Sainz has been involved in multiple spins and crashes, while Verstappen and Perez have generally been keeping themselves out of trouble in the first five rounds of 2022.

The Japanese has been observing some of the key differences between the top four.

“The difference in their driving style is becoming clearer this year,” he said, quoted by Sportsmole.

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“Leclerc and Sainz use different techniques to stabilise the car with the ground effect. Leclerc overlaps the braking and throttle, while Sainz is more orthodox as he uses the brakes and throttle separately.

“The difference becomes clear in places where you think ‘Ferrari is weak at that corner’ and the way Leclerc drives comes into play.”

Nakano, who scored points twice with the Prost team in 1997, affirms that the Dutchman is able to keep the Red Bull on the limit for longer while remaining consistent.

“I feel that Verstappen’s car control and determination at the limit when you cannot make mistakes is one step better than Leclerc,” he added.

“Of course Leclerc is good, but I get the impression that Verstappen is just a little better.”

Former Toro Rosso driver and double Formula E champion with Techeetah, Jean-Eric Verne, concedes that he could not match Verstappen’s pace in F1, but is adamant that it would be a different story in electric cars around the twisty, tight circuits the all-electric series uses.

“If I race against him in Formula 1, I have to be honest – I’m not going to beat him,” he said.

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“He is clearly at the highest level in Formula 1. If he comes to Formula E, he is not unbeatable.”

Asked if he would beat the Dutchman in a Formula E race, the Frenchman replied: “You can bet on that. I think I’m the best!” 

Leclerc leads Verstappen by 19 points after the reigning champion took victory in both Imola and Miami, but reliability failures in Bahrain and Melbourne have set the Dutchman back.