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Is a critical point between Verstappen and Leclerc inevitable?

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The British Grand Prix was the scene of the first major implosion in the thrilling battle for the 2021 Formula 1 title, so could a similar flashpoint between Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc happen this weekend?

The 2022 season started with brilliant wheel-to-wheel fights between Verstappen and Leclerc in both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

But ever since Verstappen defeated Leclerc at the inaugural Miami GP via an early overtake, there have been minimal on-track encounters between the two title rivals.

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And with Verstappen winning five of the last six races, Leclerc and Ferrari are now firmly on the defensive with Leclerc having a 49-point deficit to make up for.

So could that lead Leclerc to take more risks when he fights Verstappen?

“For Leclerc, it’s almost a case of nothing to lose. If he and Verstappen go 50/50 in a corner and Verstappen doesn’t budge, what does Leclerc have to lose in a collision? Scott Mitchell said on this week’s episode of The Race F1 Podcast.

“I don’t think he’s going to go out, this is the distinction I always make with aggressive drivers, and deliberately causing accidents, but I wonder if there will be an element of not caring if there is an accident because he’s not the one with the massive points drive. to protect.

“It will be very interesting to watch. Generally speaking, Leclerc is not the type of driver to absolutely send one inside from miles behind, but he can be very effective in battle.

“He has a bit of a history with Verstappen; They have a long-standing rivalry. He’s become one that’s ultimately been based on respect, so I don’t think he necessarily becomes unlikable.

“But I think because Leclerc has to take some risks, because of the way we know Verstappen is connected, there could be a situation where they go wheel to wheel this year. They haven’t done it in a few races, so it’s been a bit weird.

“I don’t think either of them will necessarily give in. It almost feels inevitable that there will be a tipping point of some sort.”

Mitchell believes it would “take a while” for the Verstappen/Leclerc battle to reach the heartbreak that Verstappen/Hamilton reached last year.

“One of the reasons it got so tense between them [Verstappen and Hamilton] and it spilled over, it was because there were a handful of points between them, and one position could turn the championship completely upside down.”

“While there is a little more space [between Verstappen and Leclerc] and so, for Verstappen, one race doesn’t make or break everything.

“It will be very interesting. It all comes down to their respective mindsets. I think you can probably make the case that the situation could play out 10 different ways.”

The Verstappen/Leclerc dynamic is evidently “a little different” this year and Edd Straw believes the FIA’s clarification of the race rules before the start of the season has caused a change in the way Verstappen races.

“I think that shed some slightly different lights on what would be allowed and what wouldn’t,” Straw added.

“And I think Verstappen has also taken that into account because he is a racing driver, a sports competitor, so he will do what he thinks the rules allow.

“He’s adjusted a bit this year, like any good smart driver would.”

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“One thing that interests me, as we go back to Silverstone, is whether Verstappen slightly modifies his approach when he is in a strong position.

“Obviously last year at Silverstone, I was 33 points ahead. [going into the grand prix].

“Verstappen was not to blame for the collision with Copse, but I always look at how the drivers could have played it.

“Verstappen, with the points position he was in, would probably have been better off thinking discretion was the better part of value on that particular occasion, and that would have helped him in the championship.

“It will be interesting if there is a situation where Leclerc attacks him, if he is willing to give up a little more ground, even if he doesn’t have to, just to secure his own position.”

Straw admitted that the chance of a Ferrari properly attacking a Red Bull in a race may be slim given Red Bull’s Sunday superiority so far in 2022.

While Mitchell wondered if Leclerc would be taking more chances with a championship deficit to make up, Claire Cottingham, a special guest on this week’s podcast episode, believed she could still play the numbers game.

“I think Charles Leclerc is more of a [Valtteri] Bottas in terms of the way he’s aggressive,” he said.

“He has changed his driving style massively this year, but is he on the same level of aggressiveness as someone like Hamilton or Verstappen? I do not think.

“So he might be thinking more about the points, especially with what has been going on with reliability, and in terms of the championship slipping away from him in the last couple of races.

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“The number of points that Red Bull and Verstappen have accumulated due to these problems that Ferrari have had, I might be thinking a little smarter, that second place is better than fighting for a win.

“Probably not for a racing driver, but we could see something similar with Charles. He might be thinking about the long game, instead of fighting for a win every time.”

Cottingham also pointed to a key difference this year in that Verstappen and Leclerc know there is a strong chance they will still have title-challenging machinery for at least the next two years.

In contrast, Hamilton and Verstappen were feuding for the last year before a major rules revolution that threatened to shake up the competitive order.

“Last year, it might have been Verstappen not knowing if Red Bull 2022 would be as competitive as it was last year,” Cottingham added.

“He might have thought it was one of his, not his last chances, but with Lewis, he might have thought it might have been one of his last chances to win a championship because a lot of things were changing this season.

“Whereas I think for Ferrari and Red Bull, they have managed to connect it quite well, barring the reliability issues and from now on it is about working on this new car and working for the next two years. There is a bit of breathing room for both sides.”

Whether that respite is enough to avoid a tipping point this weekend, or the rest of 2022, remains to be seen, but despite the differences from the 2021 title fight, there is still a chance that the fight for the This year’s title becomes much more energetic.

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