Red Bull’s Christian Horner says that his team had no way of responding to Mercedes’ second pit stop in the Hungarian Grand Prix, during which Lewis Hamilton overhauled Max Verstappen and eventually claimed victory.
Mercedes opted for a second pit stop with 22 laps remaining after Hamilton struggled to find a way past Verstappen despite appearing to have a pace advantage. Red Bull attempted to go to the end on a one-stop, but Verstappen was unable to defend the lead with four laps to go and dropped to second place – immediately pitting for soft tires to set the fastest lap – and Horner said there was nothing else his team could have done.
“I think the reality is that in the race they were a little bit quicker than we were,” Horner said. “Max made a good start, was able to get that part of job done, and in the first sector of the race they never really challenged us. They closed to [within] two seconds, Max managed to go to through the tire a bit faster than Lewis did, so then we needed to make sure we got the pit stop just ahead of [Charles] Leclerc as soon as we got track space.
“Obviously (Mercedes) then, because those two guys had a significant gap over the rest, waited another six laps to pit, so Max was managing the tires and not taking much out of it because it was obvious it would have to go to the end of the race.
“They then pitted, but Lewis worked that tire pretty hard to close up on Max quickly, and then as they came to the backmarkers it compromised Max a lot onto the straight and some of them weren’t particularly helpful, and that was the only chance Lewis had to have a bit of a go.
“As things settled down, it felt like Max had enough to keep it under control, but we could hear that as soon as Lewis was getting close his car was overheating on brakes and issues like that. So with the two cars so far ahead of the rest of the field, and the pace they had in the Mercedes, strategically it was the obvious thing to do to roll the dice.”
Had Red Bull reacted and tried to bring Verstappen into the pits on the following lap, Horner said there was no way he would have retained the lead.
“They had a good pit stop and half way round his out-lap [Hamilton] was already neck and neck, and by the end of the lap he was ahead, so we didn’t have the ability to cover on the next lap because it would have conceded track position.
“So at that point, your bed is made to get to the end of the race [on one stop], and that meant (Verstappen) started to use the tire harder than he would have liked. He was able to hold the gap as they passed through traffic, but as soon as he got into clear air, that’s when Lewis really started coming, and with four laps to go, with such a grip advantage, Max was a little bit of a sitting duck.
“We then had the opportunity to get the fastest lap. But I think Mercedes probably did have a car that was slightly quicker than ours in race conditions and while we had track position, they had the ability to execute a free stop and that worked out for them.”