Red Bull had a car quick enough to match Lewis Hamilton if it had qualified near the front of the grid in the Spanish Grand Prix, according to its team principal Christian Horner.
Hamilton took a dominant victory by over 20 seconds on Sunday, leading home a Mercedes one-two as Max Verstappen finished third. The two Red Bulls started from the third row as they were once again unable to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari in qualifying, but Horner says the car was quick enough to challenge the eventual race winner.
“It was a strong race for us,” Horner said. “We had again another strong race car. This track is a bit like Melbourne – very, very difficult to overtake at. As soon as Kimi [Raikkonen] retired it was clear that the pace of our car and the degradation of our tires was very strong. We were able to go further on the soft tire than any of our rivals.
“Our target from very early in the race was to try and make the one-stop work. We believed it was the quicker way to complete the race. Both drivers got their heads down. Lewis pitted and emerged between Max and Daniel [Ricciardo]. Daniel dropped a little bit of time at that point. Max leading the race for 10 or so laps.
“Both drivers pitted at half-distance. It looked early on that both the Ferrari and the Mercedes of [Valtteri] Bottas had pitted that it was unlikely that they were going to go to the end. There was then the VSC where Sebastian [Vettel] emerged just behind Max. then there was quite a bit of action with both cars approaching the restart.
“Max clipped the back of the Williams that was being quite inconsistent in front of him. Daniel had a spin at Turn 10 which dropped him significantly behind that group into no man’s land. So despite the damage that Max had on the front wing – which was worth a few tenths of a second – he was able to manage the gap to Sebastian who had five- or six-lap newer tires, to the end of the race without any major issue.
“Again we saw the potential of the car with Daniel as soon as he had clear air, recording the fastest laps of the race.”
Asked if Red Bull would have been fighting with Mercedes given a better qualifying position, Horner replied: “Track position is everything at a circuit like this.
“Unfortunately, the damage done on a Saturday compromises your race at a track like this on a Sunday. Looking at the pace of the car it looked on a par with what Lewis could do, particularly in the second half of the race. So the problem is when you are caught up in traffic you are damaging the car. When you are in clean air it is a lot easier to manage.”
With Ricciardo – who set the fastest lap by 0.7s – showing impressive but inconsistent pace, Horner says the car was actually limited in its potential due to his track position.
“It was just getting clear air, he was coming through the back markers, and we had actually turned the engine down. So the encouraging thing is that the upgrades have all worked reasonably well this weekend. Once again we have demonstrated we have a competitive car on a Sunday.”