Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has acknowledged it was tough to lose the Bahrain Grand Prix to Mercedes after the team performed so strongly during the race.
Max Verstappen took pole position by 0.4s, confirming Red Bull’s pre-season pace, and led the first stint before Lewis Hamilton gained track position with an undercut. As Red Bull didn’t respond and stuck to its original plan, it came down to a straight fight on track with Verstappen needing to pass Hamilton, but failing to do so cleanly and ending up being beaten by less than a second.
“Mercedes had very strong pace at the beginning of the race,” Horner said. “We couldn’t break (away), and create a gap to cover them. Their degradation looked impressive. So Max could never get more than two seconds clear of Lewis. They obviously pitted early for the undercut, we then conceded track position. And going into the race we very much fixed our strategy on a two-stop.
“So they obviously went early again on their last stop; we stayed out 10 laps longer. We had a better tire for the final stint but unfortunately Lewis had just enough to be able to hold on. Tough to lose a race like that; obviously we managed to get the pass done at one stage, got wide at Turn 4. Max was very sporting and gave it back immediately. Obviously tough to lose a close race like that but we have to take a lot of positives out of the weekend.”
Although Verstappen queried Red Bull’s instruction to hand the place back to Hamilton after his off-track overtake — suggesting he could have pulled five seconds clear in the remaining three laps to negate a potential time penalty — Horner said that was never an option.
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“I think it’s very difficult — we had an instruction from the race director to give the place back immediately. Max was very sporting and did that,” he said. “It was frustrating, and Lewis had just enough to retain his position to the end of the race. There’s no guarantee that we could have got the five seconds if that had been the penalty. He did the right thing.”
While hurt by the lack of victory in the opening race, Horner says the bigger picture is a positive one due to how tight the championship battle appears to be this season.
“The great thing for Formula 1 is it looks like the two teams are close. It was a great race, a tough race to lose, but congratulations to Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton,” he said. “Hopefully we can give them a hard time at all 23 races in the championship.”