Red Bull’s decision to gamble on a two-stop strategy in the Chinese Grand Prix led to Charles Leclerc getting “hung out to dry” by Ferrari, according to Christian Horner.
Max Verstappen was running in fifth place early on in Sunday’s race when Ferrari used team orders to swap Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel, moving the latter into third. But after getting ahead of his teammate Vettel was unable to pull away, and with Verstappen closing in, Red Bull opted for an early first pit stop and managed to undercut Leclerc, with the two-stop strategy being mirrored by the rest of the top five.
“We pitted Max and it triggered the two stops for everybody else,” Horner said. “Our rationale pretty early on was that the most upside we could have was in the upside of a two-stop, like a Safety Car, and others had elected to stay on the one-stop strategy.
“I don’t think we had a faster car than Ferrari, so our best way to beat at least one of their cars was going on to the two-stop. That sparked discussion between Sebastian and his pitwall about whether they would pit, and in the end they covered, which saw Mercedes cover him. Leclerc got hung out to dry a little bit. For us P4 was the maximum.”
After the first pit stop, Verstappen was able to attack Vettel and actually got ahead at the Turn 14 hairpin before losing out on exit. With back-to-back fourth places following a podium in Australia, the 21-year-old sits third in the drivers’ championship and Horner is impressed by Verstappen’s approach.
“I think he has been very mature about it,” he said. “He has driven three strong grands prix so far this year, and was obviously unlucky not to be on the podium in Bahrain, and we see he had a go at Sebastian (in China) after the pit stop, and he drove a very mature race to bring it home fourth.
“It is about points accumulation at this stage. It still not that big a gap to the guys ahead, he is still ahead of both Ferrari drivers in the championship at the moment, and still a long, long way to go. So it is important you don’t give away too much ground at this stage of the year.”