Max Verstappen admits he had some doubts over whether the two-stop strategy was going to pay off for him in the French Grand Prix as he yielded the lead before fighting back to win.
Lewis Hamilton took advantage of a mistake from Verstappen to lead the first stint but then Red Bull regained the position in the pit stop phase, leaving Verstappen in first place. But with higher tire degradation than exception, Verstappen was called in from the lead with 20 laps remaining and made a second stop, erasing an 18-second deficit to overtake Hamilton for the win on the penultimate lap.
“It was certainly not easy, especially the beginning I would say was tricky for me, because I had my moment in Turn 1,” Verstappen said. “I honestly got caught out — I turned in thinking it was fine and suddenly just kept losing the rear. I had to go off the track and lost the position.
“I was really upset at the time — you still have to think ahead, it’s a long race, a lot of things could happen. I tried to follow but I have to say that I think it rained overnight and this morning, I think with F3 driving, I think they took a bit of rubber off. It was quite gusty out there today, a bit more wind than yesterday, I think it took until the middle of the race for us to actually get back into a nice balance because in the beginning I was just oversteering a lot — difficult to really put the power down.
“We had a good out lap on the hard tire, so I got ahead of Lewis — which was very unexpected because I honestly thought I had a good out-lap, but just thinking I would slot in behind him. I saw he was coming out of the pits and I had an opportunity to go for it.
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“For eight laps I think — I don’t know how many laps — Lewis was giving it all to try and come by, so it was not easy to keep him behind. We opted to go for the two-stop, and I was like, ‘OK well, let’s see if it’s going to work out.’ You never know around here. Then the backmarkers were also not making it easy to clear them and gain a lot of time every lap.
“As soon as I was getting closer, I could see the tires Lewis was on, they were really worn and there was not much left. As soon as I got in the DRS, the top speed with the wing level we chose, I think it was a fairly easy pass. But of course, having fresher tires… it worked out, but it was very tight.”
Verstappen revealed that a radio issue where his team couldn’t understand what he was saying ensured he wasn’t able to question the strategy call.
“Even if I wouldn’t have agreed to it, I could have been talking on the radio, but they wouldn’t have understood me anyway … I don’t know (why), it was literally next to my mouth and it was always in the same position as previous races.
“I just couldn’t talk back to them. They could feed me all the information, and that’s the most important thing. The stops were done, so I couldn’t talk to them — but what can you do?”