Max Verstappen’s second place at the Russian Grand Prix was like a victory for Red Bull after starting last on the grid, according to team principal Christian Horner.
Red Bull opted to take a power unit penalty in Sochi; Verstappen needing an extra engine at some stage due to damage sustained in his heavy crash at Silverstone. His potential to climb through the field in Russia, combined with an expectancy that Mercedes would dominate, drove to the decision to take the penalty last weekend, but a rain-hit qualifying mixed up the grid before a late shower in the race allowed Verstappen to climb to second behind Lewis Hamilton.
“It was like a victory for us, to go from 20th on the grid to P2,” Horner said. “If you’d have offered that before the weekend, I think we’d have bitten your arm off. So to have achieved that, to come away from two Mercedes strongholds with only a two point deficit in the drivers’ championship is hugely encouraging. Seven to go, it’s all to play for.”
Horner insists Red Bull was targeting a significant points result even from the back of the grid, but he thought Verstappen was going to fall just short of his best possible finish until the late rain. He attributes the success to his driver’s early decision to pit for intermediate tires.
“Pre-race, probably P5 would have been the absolute optimum,” he said. “So to come away with P2… obviously, a few laps before the end, it looked like probably P6, so Max got the call right to go onto the inters, and it worked out well for him. To get P2 and the engine penalty done is more than we could have hoped for going into the weekend.
“I think with the crossover, the call is always with the driver. They can feel the level of grip for what they can cope with; they can see more when the weather is on top of us. When it is at the point where you need an inter, that’s how we operate – the crossover is down to the driver, and Max made a great call there.”