Sergio Perez was told to move over for Max Verstappen late in the Spanish Grand Prix because it wouldn’t have been a fair fight between the two drivers, according to Christian Horner.
Verstappen had dropped behind Perez in the first part of the race and then been allowed through by his teammate, but the favor was not returned when Perez arrived quickly on the back of Verstappen while fighting with George Russell.
After Charles Leclerc’s retirement from the lead, the battles became for the win and Perez was leading with 17 laps to go when he followed a team order to let Verstappen through again, as he was switched onto his own three-stop strategy late on.
“Where do you start?!” Horner said. “Obviously we had a DRS issue [with Verstappen] that delayed us getting to the grid. So at that point we had no balance information and no practice start, and both drivers got great starts.
“Max wasn’t greedy into Turn 1, he gave Charles the space and things were settling down quite nicely, the temperatures were under control, because it was always going to be about tires, this race.
“And then a massive gust of wind literally just drifted him wide into the gravel and that dropped him down into fourth. But before that, even, we could see that the DRS was working sometimes and not on other occasions, so suddenly he’s back down the order, closed quickly on Checo, Checo released him to have a go at George, and then obviously George was very robust in his defense and without the benefit of a consistent DRS it was very difficult for Max to make the pass.
“Eventually he got the job done, but at that point we decided our best way to beat George was to try to give Max a tire advantage and convert to a three-stop strategy. We were still undecided at that stage on three-stop versus two, but we could see that our tires were in better condition than our rivals and then, of course, the Ferrari retired, unfortunately for Leclerc.
“So at that point we converted Max onto a three-stop that put him out of sync with Checo. We managed to bag a pit stop over George and then of course he very quickly closed on Checo. At that stage there was a tire delta of close to two seconds a lap, so with oil temperatures, water temperatures and a DRS that was intermittently working it didn’t make any sense for the team to let them fight because it was an unfair fight anyway.
“As it turned out, we had to pit Checo anyway for the end of the race. So both drivers worked together as a team and to get the maximum points was hugely important when Ferrari had an issue.”
And Horner says he was quick to explain the situation in more detail to Perez after the race had finished, to try and appease the Mexican.
“I spoke with him when he got out the car and I think the problem for any driver is that if they don’t have the clear overview of a strategy or race plan in front of them, it is always going to be emotive to give up a lead.
“But he played very much a team game, I think he understood clearly that it wasn’t a like for like fight because the pace delta between the strategies was so great that from a team point of view it just didn’t make any sense, which is why we didn’t let the drivers get into a fight.”