Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, Hungaroring, 2019

Horner: No way to protect Verstappen from “obvious” Mercedes strategy

2019 Hungarian Grand Prix

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Red Bull had no defence against Mercedes’ strategy which helped Lewis Hamilton win the Hungarian Grand Prix, says Christian Horner.

Max Verstappen lost the lead of the race after Hamilton was able to attack him on fresher tyres in the final laps. Mercedes brought Hamilton in for a second pit stop which Horner says Red Bull were unable to respond to.

“It felt like Max had enough to have him just under control,” said Horner. “We could hear that as soon as Lewis was getting close his car was overheating or brakes and issues like that.”

However as their rivals had dropped back so quickly. Mercedes had the option of pitting Hamilton without losing a position.

“With the two guys so far ahead of the rest of the field and the pace that they had in the Mercedes, strategically it was the obvious thing to do to roll the dice and take a pit stop,” said Horner.

Hamilton’s pit stop and out-lap were quick enough that Red Bull immediately knew Verstappen would lose the lead if they pitted in retaliation.

“By halfway round [Hamilton’s] out-lap he was already neck-and-neck which means by the end of the lap he would have been ahead [if Verstappen pitted]. So we didn’t have the ability to then cover with Max by stopping him on the next lap because it would have conceded track positions.”

Horner said Red Bull’s “bed was made” at that point: Verstappen had to stay out and could not manage his tyres as much as before.

“He started to use the tyre harder than he would have would have liked and he was able to hold the gap until they passed through all the traffic. Then as soon as they got into clear air that’s when Lewis really started coming. With three or four laps to go, with such a grip advantage, Max was a little bit of a sitting duck.”

Although Red Bull took the fastest lap of the race, by putting Verstappen on a set of soft tyres at the end of the race, Horner believes Mercedes were simply quicker in Hungary.

“We had the opportunity to get the fastest lap. But I think today Mercedes probably did have a car that was slightly quicker than ours in race conditions. And whilst we had track position they had the ability to execute a free stop and that worked out for them today.”

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39 comments on “Horner: No way to protect Verstappen from “obvious” Mercedes strategy”

  1. Not so sure about this, surely the race simulations would have shown that a 2 stopper was the way to go and roughly when to make each stop?

    1. Well, had Hamilton (or bottas?) gotten ahead of Verstappen, we probably wouldn’t have seen them go for a two stopper; if Horner is right, that Mercedes would then have been able to run a bit longer than Verstappen (as HAM did now too), and stay ahead of him until the end (so, glad that didn’t happen then, would have been a bit boring).

      I think this sounds quite reasonable, and probably true, after all, had they seen a chance, they’d have pitted Verstappen later for his first round already, and surely had they seen opportunity to counter the 2nd, they’d have done that too.

      So, good that RBR&Verstappen did great yesterday, gave us a good fight to watch with Merc/HAM the faster today. And happy to see it’s close enough between them that we have this tension.

      1. It did seem strange that Red Bull were the ones to pit first, they’ve generally been kinder on their tyres all season compared to the other top teams.

        1. Not strange at all, they were covering the undercut

        2. As someone else pointed out on this site, Max’ car was set-up with low downforce with a view to getting pole (not a bad idea on a track like the Hungaroring where overtaking is considered difficult), while Lewis’ car set-up wasn’t. As a result, Max’ car slid around more and used up its tyres more. That is why his Red Bull was less kind to the tyres. This set-up difference contributed hugely to these two drivers’ different tyre management capabilities and ultimately also thier race fortunes. (Not taking anything away from Hamilton here, because you can set up the car, but the driver still has to deliver and boy, did Hamilton produce a splendid race).

    2. It only became a 2 stop race because they were pushing the tyres so hard instead of managing them more and the fact the gap to the nr 3 was so big.

  2. Presumably had Hamilton actually made the pass on Verstappen in the second stint, Red Bull would have immediately pitted Verstappen to try the same strategy and catch LH. But Horner is probably right, Hamilton/Mercedes were simply faster.

    1. The big surprise for me was that Hamilton overtook Verstappen when he did. He thus allowed Verstappen to change tyres and steal Hamilton’s fastest lap giving away 1 championship point.

      It would have been better to have followed Verstappen for the next two laps and pass him after the pit entrance on lap 68 instead of lap 66 (I think). I believe this to have been a tactical error by Mercedes to have allowed Hamilton to do this. I realise this was the safe race win option but with a bit of thought, an extra point could have been won. It hit me immediately Hamilton passed.

  3. If they’d pitted first, Hamilton wouldn’t have stopped again, so Max would have been chasing him down with better tyres. The situation would have been reversed, and likely the result as well. Red Bull got caught out by Mercedes – in much the same way Red Bull have pinched wins in the past.

    Is it significant that when it happened to Merc they admitted it, held inquests, and improved in that department, while Red Bull are in denial?

    1. I suspect a max stop would seal an easy win for Lewis; having stopped later, he should have had more tyre life left – and thats before considered how much more life Lewis was able ot extract from them.

      To Horner – one way to avoid this kind of mishap would be to hire a slightly quicker number 2.

      I was idly wondering (I have no evidence either way) if they pushed to setup too much towards qualifying pace, expecting that track position would be enough.

      1. There seems to be an implicit assumption in your argument – that Max would have won if he stayed out. That can’t be true, though, because he did stay out and got mugged.

        At the point just before Hamilton pitted, it was clear that if Max didn’t pit, he was going to finish 2nd. So contrary to what Horner said, it was actually Red Bull who had nothing to lose by stopping.

        The first time around, RB pitted as soon as they had enough gap to the chasing pack. When they pulled out that gap the second time, they had dozed off; Merc pitted first, Max had to do another lap to get back to the pits, race lost.

        1. Fair point – the prevailing view of the teams was to go with one-stop though, and Hungary track position is rather valuable, it would be a big decision to give that up.

          If we take Horner at his word, RB were aware that a switch to 2-stop was plausible, and therefore (presumably) felt it better to stick with the 1-stop. Maybe not 100% certain, but it suggests he didn’t think losing the race if Merc stopped was inevitable.

          As it happens, the Merc brake issue would likely have given Max enough breathers (since Lewis couldn’t maintain consistent pressure) to keep the tyres alive till the end, but I doubt RB would have been able to factor that in.

  4. I believe LH’s ability to preserve his tyres while putting pressure on Max in the first stint did the damage to Max’s race in the second half of the race.

    Had Max pitted later in the first stint, he would have comfortably won on a 1 stop strategy.

    1. @lums Agree. It’s actually been a feature of Hamilton’s season, starting behind on the grid, but having good or better race pace and forcing the lead driver into tyre wear by racing them closely and eventually beating them (Vettel, Bottas, now Verstappen). Funnily enough, it seems almost Max-like (reminds me of MV in Brazil last season).

      1. @david-br
        Something to do with his driving style not punishing the tyres even when sat on a cars gear box. Incredible

        1. Like Monaco?

        2. @lums I guess he and Mercedes thought this season they’d be chasing Ferrari a lot of the time and maybe adjusted accordingly? Not just qualifying first and converting pole, but also following and winning during the race? Seems like a subtle but effective adjustment in approach. But whatever it is, like you said, Hamilton seems able to follow closely over a good portion of the race now. Excellent for the actual racing.

  5. Lewis Race pace is mega this season. I think he has sacrificed a bit of his Saturday qualifying pace/setup but perfected his friday race pace/setup. The way he closed down the 6 seconds gap to Max after his first pitstop was simply stunning and looked like he caught Max napping. Then he made a move around the outside but couldn’t make it stick and ran wide.
    What an on the edge attack whole race by Lewis Hamilton. Classic.

  6. Hindsight is easy, but even at the time I was thinking that RB should have pitted Max right away, even if it meant losing the lead. They would have been close on the track, on equal tires, and the RB was arguably the faster car this weekend. Maybe he could have gotten by Louis. If nothing else it might have made for an even more exciting end to the race. What we did get was pretty darn good though!

    1. The fact that Hamilton was able to close any gap to Verstappen today usually indicates that he was a bit faster and I believe RedBull were very aware of this. If Lewis had track position on max it’s more likely he would have pulled a gap large enough to secure victory. He closed 6 seconds in a very very short span on the same “albeit slightly fresher” tires and then obviously the 20 sec gap on the medium but that was not indicative of the pace difference, it was more about the fact that it was a good strategy. Someone said something to the effect of RBR snagging wins this way. Absolutely true. They often have the ability to gamble when the leader doesn’t and German was a prime example. Leading mixed races like Germany is often not the best place to be because of it

  7. Both Verstappen and Hamilton were brilliant today, in a league of their own. Verstappen didn’t lose the race, Hamilton and Mercedes won it on merit. Pushing Verstappen the whole race and managing his tyres at the same time, impressive by Hamilton. Gasly and Bottas should be scratching their heads about their subpar performances.

  8. Why were they afraid to let Max fight for the win? Hamilton pitted, and had Max pitted he would have been behind Lewis but not by 10 seconds, he would have been right behind Hamilton. So put Max on fresh tires and let him fight for the win. It’s not like he’s someone who can’t fight wheel to wheel.

    1. RBR knew Lewis was not going to be caught from behind on the same tire strategy. He had more pace as evidenced by the 6 seconds he closed in no time after the first stop plus he was able to stay right up on max . I don’t see much PU advantage over the Honda anymore. But he had more pace in quite a few parts of the track

  9. Alan Hunter-Craig
    4th August 2019, 20:04

    Wishful thinking that Red Bull are a match for Mercedes. Bottas undoubtedly would have finished second had his car not been damaged at the beginning of the race

  10. As there was recently proposal to bring back refuelling, the tactics used by Mercedes was a perfect example against it. With only tyres in the mix, it allowed much flexibility and this time it worked perfectly for Hamilton. Was there ever a race in the refuelling era where car which was already fuelled to the end made that kind of move?

    1. There were many instances where a car was behind others, was short fueled, turned 10 or 15 qualifying laps and ended up ahead. So I don’t see the difference. Having options is the key whether it’s via tires, fuel or a combination of both.

      1. The difference is that the other team knows exactly how much fuel is in the competing car, making things somewhat more predictable.

        1. Forget refuelling in the pits. We need on-track refuelling, like in-flight refuelling for military planes.


        2. The other teams know exactly how much tire wear the other cars have, so again, I don’t see a difference.

  11. Sorry, but there is a clear way to protect Verstappen from Mercedes’ strategy. Having a driver in the second car that could be somewhat competitive on race day. They don’t need someone on Max’s level, they just need someone who can keep the second Reb Bull no more than 20 seconds behind. If Gasly was around 20 seconds behind Max, Lewis couldn’t have stopped, because he would’ve been stuck behind the second Red Bull.

    That’s what Webber did for Vettel. Red Bull needs someone else in their second car ASAP.

  12. Why didn’t RB pit for softs around 56 or so when they could have come out in front of lapped traffic but behind Ham? They would have been about 6 seconds behind, but on the quicker softs.

  13. It looked wrong from my arm chair. But Horner is right. Either way Hamilton was faster. Right before he pitted he was about to engage again.

    And if Red Bull pitted first? Hamilton would probably last to the end enjoying pace advantage using it to nurse tires for a win.

    What happend was actually best option for the show. I was glued to the screen.

  14. Positive for RBR in the big picture though.
    Honda is making progress big time and with an engine and fuel improvements in the works, they may be even more competitive.
    Of course Merc isn’t sitting by waiting, but it may be a lot tougher for them soon.

  15. Horner really is mealy mouthed propagandist.

  16. I think they might have had enough confidence in the tires to the end.

    I wonder if switching to Softs 15 laps to go would have helped. VER would have been 5-7 seconds behind at that point, but with better traction on the last sector.

  17. None of his would have worked if Ferrari had been anything other than awful.

    That they were able to take a pit stop from second and still come out in second (and therefore not have to waste time and tyres on overtakes) is just amazing and shows just how badly the Ferraris were doing.

    And then there’s Gasly – same equipment, miles away so unable to run interference with no real excuse.

    Some serious questions will be asked over the break I think.

  18. John Richards (@legardforpresident)
    5th August 2019, 4:40

    When VER forced his team to pit him on the third last lap because his tires were now considered hazardous, it became so obvious that RBR fudged this one up so bad. If they had sacrificed their position and pitted VER when he was 10secs ahead of HAM, he’d be out 10 behind (give or take) and he could have closed up that gap to HAM for sure. We know that the Merc in race trim on fresh rubber is unchallenged, so why did RBR not embrace the ‘underdog’ card and take the risk? Oh well.

  19. I still think they should have brought in Verstappen around lap 60 when the gap was still 12 seconds, put him on softs and let the pace difference give him a fighting chance. Not saying it would have worked, but the Hamilton win was inevitable and this was the way of fighting back.

  20. They just needed to get Max on to new tyres to give him a fighting chance against the Merc cruiser. His ability would have made up for the RedBull deficit.

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