Horner calls F1 Dutch GP strategy to box Verstappen first for dry tyres ‘a no-brainer’

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Photo credits: Oracle Red Bull Racing

Last Sunday’s Dutch Grand Prix was yet another reminder that F1 is very much a team sport. In a race which saw Scuderia Ferrari hunting for tyres and Mercedes staying out on track “catastrophically too long” according to team principal Toto Wollf, Red Bull Racing mastered the conditions and the occasion to leave Zandvoort with a ninth consecutive Max Verstappen victory. Key to this was the strategical approach of the team during a race which could have ended very differently for the current F1 Drivers’ Champion Max Verstappen.


Max Verstappen’s record-equalling 9th consecutive F1 Grand Prix victory was hard fought to say the least. The record books will show that Red Bull Racing’s talismanic driver started on pole and finished the race first but there was much more to it than that. Events almost conspired on Sunday to deprive Verstappen of victory. Whether it be sudden rainfall or red flags, Verstappen handled the lot failing to ‘buckle under the pressure’ – in the words of team principal Christian Horner.


However, by the completion of lap one many wondered if Verstappen’s win would in fact be achieved. With rain falling shortly after the lights went out, Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, had taken the initiative to head into the pits after the opening lap to change onto inters and capitalise on the conditions. Charles Leclerc had the same idea – but unfortunately for him, his Scuderia Ferrari mechanics took far longer to come out with his tyres.


By the time the third lap of the race arrived, race leader Max Verstappen had pitted for inters – even though the rain shower was expected to be a short one. At this stage it was clear that a very wet track would take a long time to dry. Meanwhile, a lap later Sergio Perez was the race leader and Verstappen was down in P8. Now, with his far better suited rubber on his RB19, Max Verstappen carved his way through the field and by lap 7 only had Perez in front of him. Christian Horner described Verstappen’s pace on Sunday as ‘sensational’. The home favourite reduced an 8.3 second gap to Perez to just 2.7s by lap 11 – very much a World Champion’s drive.


Of course, F1 would not be F1 without a moment of controversy.


With the track condition improving, Red Bull Racing called Verstappen in for slicks first as opposed to the current race leader Perez. When Sergio Perez entered the pits at the end of lap 12, he would leave pitlane having seen Verstappen successfully perform the undercut. At the time, Perez clearly was unimpressed as he asked on team radio (all too aware of the answer) “Did Max undercut us?”


Christian Horner explained post-race to media his team’s approach to the strategy call and made clear that no other option was even considered.


“The way he [Verstappen] cut through the traffic was quite sensational, Checo had the target to pull the gap on the cars behind him but Max’s pace as he came through the field was such that at one point, he took seven seconds out of him over three laps. And was coming very fast.


“Then you get to that awkward point at the crossover and Alonso and Gasly behind him had pulled the trigger after [on to slick tyres]. You could see from Albon that the circuit was coming alive for the slicks. So, had we pitted Checo first they would have both undercut Max, so we’d have gone from a net one-two to a net one-four. So, we pitted Max first with the risk that he’d undercut Checo, but we’d end up as a team first and a second. It was a no-brainer.”


At a time when some may have hoped for a comment to stoke the fire of controversy, Perez spoke in a manner post-race on Sunday which reaffirmed how he is very much a team player.

“The Team always know the wider picture when they are making decisions in the race and I don’t have all the information in the car, that’s why we have strategists and everyone makes the calls in the interest of the Team,”

Such a mature response could go to show why Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner said Perez’s “situation for next year is clear” and that “he’s a Red Bull Racing driver. We have an agreement with him.”


Despite such news, Perez will surely regret some unfortunate moments from his own performance. One of which resulted in a penalty for speeding in the pitlane

“When I was coming into the pitlane to box for inters it was completely flooded, I lost traction in the car and ended up clipping the wall and sliding a little which put me over the speed limit,” stated Perez.


For Max Verstappen, no sooner has he achieved something remarkable, people are already speculating as to whether he can win in Monza and with it have a winning streak of 10 Grands Prix. When such a proposal was put forward to the current F1 Drivers’ Champion, his response showed he was very much living in the moment.


“I’ll think about it next week,” Verstappen told media after he had secured his record-equalling victory in front of a jubilant Dutch crowd. “I’m first going to enjoy this weekend. It was probably one of the more difficult races to win again. But yeah, nine in a row was something I never even thought about. So yeah, very happy with that. But I think I’m in general very happy to win here in front of my own crowd.”


Due to the fact Monza is a track type that will suit the RB19’s low-downforce package – which is currently sweeping aside all in its path – a tenth consecutive Verstappen victory is a very real prospect. For that reason, the most anticipated duel to watch this weekend is surely that between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. The fact that the only threat to Verstappen (barring any race incident) appears to be from his teammate shows the might of Red Bull Racing. A team that looks set to remain charging out in front of the rest of the competition for some time to come – with Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez leading the way.