Christian Horner expected Max Verstappen to be caught at the end of his final stint at the United States Grand Prix because his first pair of hard tyres were “down to the canvas.”
Arriving to one of Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton’s favourite circuits, the Circuit of The Americas, Verstappen and Red Bull knew they’d be up against it.
The Dutchman caused the first surprise of the weekend by ending Mercedes’ pole position run at COTA, but it appeared to be for little when he lost the lead to Hamilton on the first lap.
Running in second place, Red Bull chose to go aggressive with the Dutchman’s strategy, putting him ahead of Hamilton in both his first and second stops, the second coming far sooner than many felt was ideal.
After stopping eight laps clear of Hamilton, the race came down to the last three circuits, with the Brit closing in on the Red Bull driver. Verstappen took the win by a mere 1.333s.
“I really didn’t think he was going to pull that off,” Horner told Sky Sports F1.
“Lewis, with eight lap newer tyres, and the first set of hards that came off, we were pretty much down to the canvas. And then thinking, well, we’re not going to have much left at the end here.
“But I think really, [key was] the way he managed that tyre through the last stint to make sure he had enough for the last five or six laps.”
He added: “With Lewis, you know the end of the race he’s going to be so strong. He’s gone long, he’s bought himself an advantage.
“To lose a race like that in the last two or three laps, we lost one to [Mercedes] in Montreal, and that really hurt. So to lose one here would have been really painful.
“Max just held on, he did a great job. He drove a great race, really smartly, and had just enough at the end there.”
Horner admits it was a crucial victory for Verstappen and Red Bull, with the driver extending his lead in the standings to 12 points.
“This is a big one because it has been such a stronghold of Lewis and Mercedes,” he said.
“To get the pole was a landmark moment for us yesterday, and then to convert it into a win even though we weren’t leading at the end of the first lap.
“So it was a great team performance because on Friday in first practice we were on the back foot and it looked like it would be a tough weekend, but the whole team worked very hard to turn it around.”
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