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Dutch Grand Prix: Charles Leclerc says Red Bull will be 'difficult' to catch before 2026 rule changes

Charles Leclerc shares the Belgium Grand Prix podium with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez
Charles Leclerc (left) finished third behind Red Bull's Sergio Perez (right) and race winner Max Verstappen (centre, right) at the Belgium Grand Prix before the summer break

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc says it will be "very, very difficult" to catch Red Bull before the end of the 2025 season, when the current set of Formula 1 regulations will change.

Leclerc is one of only two non-Red Bull drivers to set a pole position this year, and Red Bull have won every race.

Two-time world champion Max Verstappen is also looking to secure his ninth consecutive race victory for the team.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton said it was "very possible Charles could be right".

Leclerc, 25, said: "They have a really big margin and it's going to be very, very difficult to catch them before the change in regulations," Leclerc said at the Dutch Grand Prix.

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton said it was "very possible Charles could be right".

F1's current rules were introduced last year and, after a challenge from Ferrari in the first half of the season, the team dominated the second half of the year. Their performance has been even stronger in 2023.

The next major change of rules is due for 2026, when there will be a new set of aerodynamic regulations in tandem with heavily revised engines with about 50% of the power produced by the hybrid part of the power-unit - up from 20% currently - as well as the introduction of fully sustainable synthetic fuels.

Hamilton said Red Bull likely had the advantage of a head start in working on next year's car.

"They are ahead and most likely have started developing next year's car already months before everyone else because they are 100, 200 points ahead in the championship," the seven-time champion said.

Hamilton added that Mercedes were "working on closing the gap and next year will be proof of that - I hope we can".

At his home race at Zandvoort this weekend, if Red Bull's Verstappen secures a ninth victory in a row, he would equal the all-time record set by Sebastian Vettel, also for Red Bull, in 2013.

Many in F1 expect Verstappen to win all 10 remaining races this season and establish a remarkable new standard, and he said the thousands of Dutch fans who will pack the seaside circuit for this weekend were not a distraction.

"It is just great," said Verstappen, who has won both races at Zandvoort since it returned to the calendar in 2021 after a gap of 36 years.

"It doesn't bring for me a weight on my shoulders or extra pressure. We are able to do this now and it is fantastic and hopefully it will continue for a while but it is just fantastic to be here and see all the fans and drive such an incredible track."

Hamilton said: "There is a high chance he will win every race but we are hopeful we can challenge him at some point. And if there are any mistakes and mishaps we will be right there. He and the team haven't made any so far."

McLaren's Lando Norris, whose team vaulted to the front of the pack behind Red Bull in the four races before the summer break, also believes it could be possible to win a race this year

"We have to have a bit of luck, something has to happen to Max, from a reliability point of view, for it to happen," Norris said.

"I don't have the confidence to say we can race him outright. Maybe we can out-qualify him now and again. We have been close and there are still some tracks to come where we can be close or possibly ahead if we put everything together, but the race is where Red Bull is on another level. Their tyre degradation is basically nil compared to everyone else on the grid, even compared to Mercedes."

Leclerc added: "It's different than in the past, in the way that in qualifying we are much closer than what we have seen in the past.

"Normally when we see a team dominating it is in qualifying and the race but now for some reason with Red Bull the gaps are much bigger in the race and that is why we are all working towards our race pace because Red Bull is so far ahead.

"There is still a lot of work to do. We have some developments in the next few races that can hep us do a big step forwards but also with these cars we can have some unexpected surprises because they are so sensitive cars that a small change can have big influence and hopefully it will be the case for us."