In Spain, Hamilton ran second on the Verstappen track and opted for a second pit stop so that he could chase the leader on fresh gum after failing to undermine him early on. It worked when Hamilton won the race. In France, a similar situation played out but Verstappen was the one to take the lead first, climbing from fourth place to claim victory in the penultimate lap.
“There were a few key moments,” Horner said. “First of all, the departure. We managed to hold the position at the start. I felt like I checked the first box, then the tailwind to turn 1 was so strong it surprised Max. And we managed to survive an off-piste excursion without doing any damage, but we obviously gave way to Lewis.
“Then in the first stint it was just very, very difficult to follow closely, and it was quite difficult, so Bottas stopped. 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 did a good lap and managed to position himself on the track.
“And at that point it felt like Mercedes was pushing really hard, and we just didn’t want to be in the same position as Barcelona. So it’s always difficult to get out of the lead with 21 laps to go, but that’s what we did, while leaving Checo (Perez) on one stop. And it worked.
“Obviously Max had the pace to catch up and pass the three cars in front, it was crucial to pass Bottas quickly. And then it was great to have Lewis and you know it was a bit of a payback for Barcelona earlier in the year with a lap and a half to go.
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With the two Mercedes cars staying close to Verstappen after taking the lead in the first round of pitstops, Horner says it would have been more obvious to move to two stops if Red Bull hadn’t won the position of track, but felt the team had the ability to hedge their 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 very hard, he couldn’t manage the tires. Mercedes was telling their drivers to keep the pressure on us, and we thought they were getting ready to make two stops themselves. And the car’s feedback was that he didn’t think you’d go all the way.
“So the strategist presented the options in front of me and said, ‘We have nothing to lose’. So we pulled the trigger and putting Sergio on the alternate strategy, we covered both scenarios, that at this point in the race we didn’t know which one would work.
“It almost would have been easier if they had maintained their position on the track because we would still have pulled the trigger. It would have made our decision easier, but making that call with you in the lead and all the tires looking okay was a pretty hesitant call, but it was the fastest way we felt to the end of the race.