Max Verstappen is leading Red Bull from a car development point of view, says team principal Christian Horner.
Red Bull lost Daniel Ricciardo to Renault over the winter, with Pierre Gasly replacing the Australian after just one full season at Toro Rosso. That makes Verstappen the more experienced of the two drivers and with Red Bull trying to recover a deficit to Mercedes under new regulations this season, Horner says a more mature Verstappen is leading the team’s development.
“I think really, if you wind the clock back 12 months (Monaco) was probably the lowest weekend, last year, of his career, having a car capable of winning and crashing in FP3 and not being able to take part in qualifying,” Horner said. “That was very tough for him and I think he went away from that race and he reflected hard on it.
“Since Montreal last year he’s really just stepped things up a gear and he’s been a phenomenal force whenever he’s been in the car. The way he started this season has been outstanding. He’s overachieved in certain aspects and I think he’s got that roundedness of maturity and is very much leading the team development-wise.
“I think he’s enjoying and relishing that role as well, so if you compare Max Verstappen (today) to the equivalent time last year, he’s evolved a tremendous amount and I think that’s again the benefit of experience as well.”
Horner was particularly impressed with Verstappen’s performance in Monaco, where the 21-year-old fought Lewis Hamilton for victory before eventually being classified in fourth place.
“Max drove the wheels off the car. He got away in grid position and had a look at passing (Valtteri) Bottas into Turn 1 but wasn’t quite far enough alongside. The mechanics did a great job with the pit stop and Max left the box before Bottas which, as per the rules, is fine. Unfortunately, it all got a bit too tight resulting in the Mercedes making contact with the barrier and the stewards issuing Max a five-second penalty.
“Max drove like a lion for the rest of the race and tried everything he could to pass Lewis. We had a better tire strategy and there was only really one lap where he got close to making a move into the chicane.
“Finishing second on the road, but with the top four so close … finishing fourth is tough for Max after a drive like that but as always, he didn’t give up until the checkered flag.”