Red Bull boss Christian Horner said a determination not to suffer a repeat of the way Mercedes beat them in May’s Spanish GP led them to a victorious two-stop strategy with Max Verstappen on Sunday at Paul Ricard.
Verstappen had regained the lead he originally lost with an error at the race start to Lewis Hamilton by undercutting the Mercedes at the first pit stops, but the team then surrendered that track position by pitting the Dutchman for a second time on lap 32.
Verstappen dropped to fourth and, with Mercedes not responding with stops for either of their cars and taking over first and second places, the championship leader was forced to work his way back through on fresher tyres.
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After easily passing a compliant Sergio Perez in the sister Red Bull three laps later, Verstappen overtook Bottas on lap 44 before steadily reeling in Hamilton. He caught and passed the seven-time world champion midway around the penultimate lap for his 13th career win.
The comeback proved near role-reversal of what happened at Barcelona three races ago, when Mercedes opted for a second pit-stop with a then-second-placed Hamilton and the world champion successfully overhauled Verstappen for victory on fresher tyres.
Speaking to Sky Sports F1 after the race, Horner admitted: “I thought ‘they can’t do that to us again’. So that’s why we went for the stop and then it was down to Max having to make up the ground on track.”
Once he had overtaken Bottas, Verstappen trailed Hamilton by five seconds and, although he took several more laps before truly slashing into the leader’s advantage, he got to the back of the leading Mercedes with time to spare.
“We could see that Lewis was pretty much through to the band of the tyre, so there couldn’t have been anything left on that tyre,” added Horner.
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“Max had five, six laps to do it after he cleared Valtteri. He got his head down and, I have to say, Lewis was very fair with the pass.
“He didn’t defend hard or aggressively; it was a very clean move.”
Red Bull have now won three consecutive races in the Mercedes-dominated hybrid-turbo engine era for the first time and stretched their leads in both world championships heading into a double-header at their home Austrian track over the next fortnight.
“It has been a great race,” said Horner. “You can see how close it is. It’s a big win for us here but you only have to look how tight it is.”
Verstappen: Win not about payback
For Verstappen, a third race victory of the season and an extended championship lead of 12 points made up to some extent for the disappointment of losing out on a near-certain win a fortnight ago in Baku before his rear tyre blew.
Asked about it also representing a turnaround from another potential win at Barcelona, the Dutchman said he was simply focused on looking forward rather than back.
“There is no payback because things happen in the past you can’t change,” the race winner told Sky F1. “It’s about trying to do things better.
“Again, it was super close. It wasn’t very easy out there with the wind and track conditions. But to be able to win this race is extremely satisfying.”
Asked about his late pursuit of Hamilton, Verstappen added: “You never know. I just do my laps, but you have to see what they can do as well. I could see of course Lewis is managing his pace a bit but then they ran out of fronts, so they couldn’t really defend.”
Horner had said after Verstappen’s pole position on Sunday that Red Bull could be confident of winning on any type of circuit if they succeeded in defeating Mercedes at Paul Ricard, a track that features several different types of corner.
“I hope so,” said Verstappen when his team boss’ remarks were put to him. “I hope Christian is right!”
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