Horner praises “outstanding performance” by Verstappen at the Spanish GP

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Photo credit: Red Bull Racing

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner had nothing but nice things to say about his 2 drivers, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, after their performances in the 2023 Spanish Grand Prix. Horner’s words were especially good about Verstappen, who won from pole position with a 24-second gap in front of 2nd place finisher Lewis Hamilton.

He also commended the drivers’ starts, but more specifically Verstappen keeping calm and collected against his front-row opponent on lap 1, Carlos Sainz. His former teammate was on softs versus the mediums for the 25-year-old.

“A phenomenal performance by Max today,” Horner explained. “I think the most challenging part of the race for him was actually the start, being the only 2 cars to be starting on the medium tyres. The start was good, but he had to be firm but fair with Carlos [Sainz] into the first turn, and then after that he managed the race brilliantly well.

“We ran all 3 compounds of tyres today and [Verstappen] had the pace to cover whatever was going on behind him and build a 24 second gap by the end of the race. Outstanding performance.”

Photo credit: Red Bull Racing

When the lights were about to go out on the race, a lot of people were surprised to see the Red Bull cars on medium tyres to start the race, flooded by a sea of red-striped soft tyres around them. However, Horner was worried that the decision to start on the softs could have led to an alternate strategy that may not have been idea for the team. However, it ended up working out in the end, especially for Perez.

“I think [the decision to start on the medium tyre] was maybe a bit on the conservative side. We were concerned that the soft tyre would degrade quite quickly and could put you on a cusp of a three-stop, but we were more conservative with Max.

“And with Checo we figured it would give him longer range to make better use of the pace of the car and that played out pretty well for him later in the race.”

Another subject that was brought up was Max Verstappen’s relationship with his engineer, Gianpiero “GP” Lambiase. When Verstappen was shown the black and white flag for exceeding track limits on three occasions, the Dutchman and GP got into a discussion on what the reasons were. They would also end up talking about the fastest lap which the reigning champion took.

GP: “Ok Max, that was a third strike on track limits.”

MV: “Where?”

GP: “Turn 10. You’ve now been given the black and white flag. You’re 18 seconds ahead of Hamilton. No risks required Max.”

MV: “What’s the fastest lap?”

GP: “It’s a 1:16.6. It was a first lap on a new soft for Checo with DRS, so I wouldn’t worry about it Max.”

MV: “What’s my fastest lap?”

GP: “Yours is a 1:17.3. Like I say, you’ve been given a black and white flag, so we cannot afford anything.”

GP: “Okay [after Verstappen set a 1:16.3 for the fastest lap point], now can you bring it home within the white lines? Thank you.”

MV: “Yeah yeah.”

Horner said that this is nothing new, and it was only precautionary to avoid any unnecessary mistakes and penalties late in the race.

“He broke the track limits at turn 5 for 2 laps and then he did it again on turn 10 and he was very surprised. At 10 I don’t think he realised there was a limit. So, his engineer informed him ‘one more strike and it’s a penalty’ and not to take any risks in the fastest lap.

“The relationship they have is one like an old married couple, almost debating about which television channel they should be watching.

“But Max was totally in control and he was aware of the risk and was able to do the fastest lap quite comfortably with the tyres he had on the car.”

This conversation that Horner had post-race is just a testament to how good Red Bull Racing have been this season. Having an alternative strategy to the rest of the grid at the beginning of a race could have been disastrous, especially for Perez.

However, the outright pace of the car allowed both drivers to exceed expectations and have incredible races in their own ways. As Horner mentioned, each driver used all 3 compounds of tyres, showing that regardless of the relative disadvantage that they may have in choosing a harder tyre, the speed of the car allows them to be miles ahead of the next best car, whether it be Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin, or the Mercedes’ of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, from whom it definitely was the case this weekend.

While each of the drivers excelled given their situation, this leaves the gap between the top and second place ever clearer at 53 points.

And, with the Canadian Grand Prix coming in a few weeks time, a track which has a fine balance between high speed straights and sharp corners, the gap could become more evident as the season goes on.