Max Verstappen says he was nearly taken out by Robert Kubica in the pit lane on his way to victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Leading from pole position, Verstappen made his first pit stop one lap after Lewis Hamilton and was in danger of being undercut by the Mercedes when he was forced to take evasive action in the pit lane. Williams released Robert Kubica into the path of Verstappen — earning the Pole a five-second time penalty — and a year after contact with backmarker Esteban Ocon cost him a likely win at Interlagos, Verstappen admits it was almost a case of history repeating.
“A lot of things happened!” Verstappen said. “I think the start was good enough. I was happy about that. Then, the first stint everything looked quite good. Towards the end of that stint the tires just started to wear a bit and then I had the traffic with the Williams cars and Lewis of course pitted that lap. It was not very nice.
“Actually, I did my pit stop and I came out also Robert came out and he almost took me out; I went into the wall. I had to brake there… I almost caught the anti-stall, so it was very close.”
However, after avoiding contact Verstappen quickly dispatched both Charles Leclerc and Hamilton to regain the lead, and had praise for the way Red Bull managed a chaotic race to help him secure victory.
“My out lap, luckily for me Lewis got stuck in the middle sector with Charles, so I pushed up to them and luckily I could get by Charles into Turn 12. Then I still had the tow and the DRS of Lewis and I was on full power and DRS open, and I could get Lewis into Turn 1.
“From there onwards in that stint we managed the tires quite well. I was waiting for Mercedes to react again but luckily we had enough of a gap to go one lap longer, so we did that. Good pit stop from the guys as well. I think it was 1.9 seconds, so that was incredible.
“On the medium tire Lewis was pushing hard and we were quite closely matched. I think if there wouldn’t be a safety car it would have been a good fight towards the end of the race. But of course then the safety car came out and I think there the team did a really good job calling me in again for soft tires.
“At the time I was a bit like, ‘Is this going to work? I’m not sure…’. But immediately on the restart I had a good tow off Lewis and went around the outside. We had a good battle in Turn 1 and again in Turn 4. And then you could see that the tire advantage really helped me and we could stay in first and control the race.”
Reflecting on his fights with Hamilton — who he twice passed into Turn 1 — Verstappen says he took extra pleasure from going wheel-to-wheel with the newly-crowned drivers’ champion.
“If you can battle against the world champion it’s always better than battling someone for P10 or whatever. I think it was a good battle and we gave each other enough room — just enough but I think it was cool.”