Saudi Arabian GP race winner Max Verstappen said it took some smart thinking to find a way past Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc in the concluding laps of a hard-fought race at Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
Verstappen had started the race from fourth on the grid but immediately got past Carlos Sainz for third place. Meanwhile Leclerc ran the opening stint in second place behind pole sitter Sergio Perez until managing to bluff the Mexican into making an early pit stop.
That helped Leclerc take the lead on lap 15, and then it seemed that he had the edge over Verstappen who was now running right behind him in second. But after a Virtual Safety Car for multiple retirements, battle raged between the pair for the final 16 laps.
Verstappen was repeatedly able to close up on Leclerc and pull ahead going through the final corner only for Leclerc to respond with DRS down the straight to reclaim the spot. But finally the pressure paid off for Verstappen and on lap 46 he was able to take the lead on a long term lease.
Even so, it was a drag race to the line between Verstappen and Leclerc, which the Dutch driver won to put the heartbreak of last week's late retirement behind him.
"It was a really tough but a good race," Verstappen told the media in parc ferme after the chequered flag. "It wasn't easy playing smart tricks in the last corner, but eventually I managed to get ahead.
"We were battling hard at the front, and we just started to play the long game," he explained. "[Ferrari] were really quick through corners, we were quick on the straight, but the tyres were wearing out quite quickly around here.
"You could see the end we had a little bit more pace, so I just tried to get by," he continued. "It seems like once you get quite close - when you get within half a second, you actually can have a good exit.
"That makes it a lot more tricky to actually do the pass, let's say in the last corner compared to last year, so it's a lot harder to plan your pass.
"Even after that he was constantly in the DRS, and then with the yellow flags in the last lap [it was down to] just knowing how much you should lift, whether it's allowed or not.
"It was tough, but really happy that we finally kickstarted the season."
Today's win moves Verstappen up to third place in the championship standings after last week's frustratingly fruitless outing.
However with Leclerc picking up the bonus point for fastest lap for the second week in a row, Verstappen is still 20 points behind the Monegasque, and eight points behind Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari.