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Mark Hughes on Max Ferstappen’s victorious tactics

Max Ferstappen won an exciting duel with Charles Leclerc and won the Saudi Grand Prix. Mark Hughes on the pages of the official website of the championship discusses why he succeeded.

At the beginning of the race, Sergio Perez, who started from the pole, was in the lead, and he had a very real chance to win, but he was unlucky. He lost this chance due to the fact that the safety car left the track at the wrong time. And then Charles Leclerc failed to keep Max Ferstappen out of the second interval that allowed the use of DRS – and also because of the virtual safety car mode, announced at the wrong time.

At the same time, Ferstappen used every opportunity to break through, and in the end came out the winner of the fight with Ferrari, during which we witnessed a great series of overtaking.

But in all the episodes that affected the outcome of the race, tires played an important role.

Almost all riders started on Medium (C3) tires, although in the long run these tires were not as good as the stiffer (C2) tires, which allowed to go faster after about six laps, but worked better at the beginning of the section. Starting at C3 and then switching to C2 seemed like the best tactic and involved one pit stop.

Sergio Perez, a Red Bull Racing racer, took the lead from the pole, but Charles Leclerc, Max Ferstappen and Carlos Sains held on. On medium stiffness tires, no one wanted to attack too hard to keep them in normal condition until pit stops, which was fundamentally important.

At least, none of the riders of the leading group, because between the pilots of Alpine, Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso, a sharp rivalry immediately unfolded. Perez at this time could not break away from Leclerc far enough to deprive the Ferrari driver of the opportunity to use the tactics of an earlier pit stop.

But the gap between the leaders and the riders riding in the middle of the peloton was widening, and it was time to hold pit stops. Ferrari was going to use the aforementioned “trimming” tactic against Perez, who was just 2.2 seconds ahead of Leclerc on the 15th lap, as by that time the gap with Mercedes’ fifth-placed George Russell had grown.

The tires on the RB18 Perez were starting to run out, and Leclerc was told on the radio that the pit stop should take place on this lap – either Perez will go to the pits, or he. Charles knew he had to follow Sergio’s actions and do the opposite. As Red Bull invited his driver to the pits, Leclerc remained on the track.

We will never know how their confrontation could end, because immediately after Sergio turned onto the pit lane, Nicolas Latifi crashed his car and a safety car drove onto the track. Therefore, everyone who had a pit stop on the next lap lost much less time. Thus, Leclerc, Ferstappen and Science were ahead of Perez, who was unlucky, and he rolled back to 4th position.

After all the pilots of the leading group switched to hard tires, the nature of the race changed markedly. These tires allowed to attack at full force, and they were not subject to overheating. Leclerc’s task was quite clear: in the first two laps after the restart, he had to create enough distance from Ferstappen to prevent him from using the DRS.

Charles succeeded: when he was allowed to use DRS, he managed to break away from Max for 1,057 seconds.

The two riders continued to fight, and the leader tried to keep the pursuer from approaching his car for less than a second in any of the three DRS zones. They took turns showing the best time on the lap, and it was already beginning to seem that Leclerc was on his way to a sure victory. At the same time, hard tires in the second leg of the race allowed to fight at the limit, as in the old days.

But the nature of the race changed once again when the virtual safety car (VSC) mode was introduced due to the slowing down Alonso and Riccardo cars. And again, the main steering wheel in all this was played by rubber.

During three laps in VSC mode, each of which the racers were about half a minute slower than at a normal racing pace, the tires cooled down. And when worn-out C2 tires start to cool down, it’s not so easy to restore the right temperature.

But on the Red Bull it was still faster than on the Ferrari – after a few turns. Whereas on the F1-75 the tires warmed up more or less normally only at the end of the lap.

Of course, this meant that Leclerc could no longer keep Ferstappen out of the second interval, and he could use DRS.

In addition, Max managed to find the best way to get ahead of the opponent with this system and not allow Charles to counterattack. Especially since the rear tires on Ferrari Leclerc began to lose efficiency after so many laps of intense duel, which took place at high speeds.

All this was the decisive factor that allowed Ferstappen to win.

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