Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says Max Verstappen’s victory in the French Grand Prix was payback for when Lewis Hamilton beat him in Barcelona.
In Spain, Hamilton was running second on track to Verstappen and opted for a second pit stop to be able to chase down the leader on fresh rubber after having failed to undercut him early on. It worked out as Hamilton won the race. In France, a similar situation was playing out but Verstappen was the one who pit first from the lead, climbing from fourth place to take the win on the penultimate lap.
“There were a few key moments,” Horner said. “First of all, the start. We managed to hold position at the start. Felt like first tick in the box, then the tail wind down to Turn 1 was so strong it caught Max out. And we managed to survive an off track excursion without doing any damage, but obviously conceded the place to Lewis.
“Then, in the first stint, it was just very, very difficult to follow closely, and it was quite tough, so Bottas pitted. We had just enough to cover him and we were surprised that they didn’t do the same with Lewis on the same lap because Max then had stonking out lap and managed to get track position.
“And at that point it felt like Mercedes were pushing very hard, and we just didn’t want to be in the same position as Barcelona. So, it’s always a difficult thing to pit from the lead with 21 laps to go, but that’s what we did, whilst in the meantime leaving Checo (Perez) on a one-stop. And it worked out.
“Obviously, Max had the pace to catch and pass the three cars ahead it was crucial to get past Bottas quickly. And then it was great to get Lewis and you know, it was a little bit of payback for Barcelona earlier in the year with a lap and a half to go.”
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With both Mercedes cars staying close to Verstappen after he took the lead in the first round of pit stops, Horner says it would have been more obvious to switch to a two-stop if Red Bull hadn’t gained track position, but felt the team had the ability to hedge its bets with a competitive Perez also in the frame.
“Once we were on the hard tire, we stopped on lap 18, we were discussing it around lap 28, so sort of 10 laps later. Max was being pushed really hard, he wasn’t able to be managing the tires. Mercedes were telling their drivers to keep the pressure on us, and we thought they were very much gearing up for a two-stop themselves. And the feedback from the car was that he didn’t think you’d get to the end.
“So, the strategist presented the options in front of me and said, ‘We have got nothing to lose.’ So, we pulled the trigger and by putting Sergio on the alternative strategy we got both scenarios covered, which at that point in the race we weren’t sure which one would work out.
“It would have almost been easier if they’d have maintained track position, because then we would have pulled the trigger anyway. It would have made our decision easier, but to make that call when you’re in the lead and all the tires are looking OK it was quite a ballsy call, but it was the fastest way we felt at the end of the race.”