Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

Giving up track position was key factor in defeat to Mercedes – Verstappen

2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen believes giving up track position to Mercedes was the crucial factor in Red Bull’s Bahrain Grand Prix defeat.

Having dominated the weekend and led the early stages of the race from pole position, Verstappen fell behind eventual winner Lewis Hamilton after the Mercedes driver made his first pit stop four laps earlier than him.

The Red Bull driver was able to mount a strong challenge for the win in the dying laps of the race, but lost out after a bold overtaking move at turn four was deemed illegal by race control and Verstappen was advised to yield the lead back to Hamilton.

Verstappen said he enjoyed the battle with the Mercedes, but the difficulties he faced trying to pass Hamilton demonstrated showed the importance of keeping track position.

“It’s disappointing to be second. It just shows again that track position is super-important, even when you think you have the better tyres.

“I was closing quite comfortably but then when I got close [to] Lewis, with how the wind was today in those critical low-speed corners, I just had no grip. Still better grip than Lewis, but not enough to really make a difference.”

Having lost the lead in the first round of pit stops, Verstappen used tyres that were 10 laps fresher than those of Hamilton in the final stint to close within striking distance of the Mercedes.

“With this car, that advantage goes away very quickly once you get within one and a half seconds,” explains Verstappen. “With these cars, I think the last few years, it is very important to have track position, and we gave that up today.

“That one lap I had a shot at him, I think also the backmarker [Antonio Giovinazzi] was not really helping him, giving him a bit of a snap, so that was not ideal.

“I ran a bit wide out of turn four, so I had to give the position back and then it was just impossible any more to really go for it. I was always just too far behind. We’ll analyse what we can do better. Clearly today showed that track position was key again.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Will Wood
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15 comments on “Giving up track position was key factor in defeat to Mercedes – Verstappen”

  1. Well, yeah, that makes sense.

    I do think that Max might have had an oppertunity to be more clever at exactly where he gave the position back to avoid giving Hamilton such a great opportunity to build a pretty big gap. Maybe that would have made a difference.

    But i am sure that both of these teams will look at their strategies for the weekend and learn. Red Bull made a mistake in Q2 – Norris shows that they could have easily had Perez in there starting on softs and still finish close to or even on the podium. And then their race strategy was not top notch. And as Bottas mentioned, the Mercedes strategy was “conservative” I think they could have varied more, and I think with the fight being closer, their “we give exactly the same strategies to both teammates” which always compromises the guy in second as well as their quite conservative early stops doesn’t work best for them.

    1. Max had a great race. However I am not particularly happy to hear him complaining about not being able to cheat…

      On the radio he said “We could have pulled out more than 5 seconds” so he thought it would be fine to cheat, then pull out enough of a lead that it didn’t matter if he was punished. Now that is partly to do with the regulations which are ridiculous. But it is also a state of mind.

      1. He thought it was a engineer suggestion untill his engineer told him it was a RC order and those are hard to ignore. Other wise he would race ahead 5 seconds what he thought first as he know this penaulty.

      2. I cant be sure, but I am pretty sure that is what every driver would feel: if doing such and such with these set of rules yields a win, instead of defeat, we negotiate the rules such that it maximises our chances of winning. If track position was more important, this race it was, but the penalty for missing the corner whilst overtaking was lower, he and every other competitor in such a position SHOULD have stayed in front.

        I am also pretty sure that is why Hamilton felt fine not stay within the track at turn 4, as it became apparent he could get away with it, while clearly not within the rules.

        This must have annoyed Verstappen, as he stayed within the track while he could see Hamilton do otherwise against rules. While Hamilton felt this was fair play, it annoyed me that the stewards and RC allowed this for more than 30 laps.

        Reply moderated
      3. I am not particularly happy to hear him complaining about not being able to cheat…

        I think handing back the place immediately (and not re-attacking at the very next corner, remember Spa 2008) is the right thing to do so I am glad it worked out this way. On the other hand I expect a driver to try to bend the rules if necessary. Like Hamilton going off track at turn 4 every lap, because it was allowed. And we saw in the previous years that many drivers got a penalty of 5 seconds for leaving the track and gaining advantage, so I expect a driver to consider this option.

        1. I disagree. Cutting the corner that has been suggested to be fine is one thing. (Especially as there are many corners at circuits where it is seemingly perfectly okay to leave the track). I am not sure he was actually gaining a time advantage by doing so either but it may have helped with tyre wear.

          That is different from manipulating the rules so that you end up purposefully cheating but making sure the benefit outweighs the punishment. Plus Hamilton up to that point had not been told not to leave the track at that corner. Once he was he stopped.

          Now Max did give the place back and that was the correct thing to do but that was the teams decision.

  2. after a bold overtaking move at turn four was deemed illegal by race control

    It was never really on, though. Max like all the other drivers was told pre-race that overtaking there would mean having to return the place, and that’s what Masi immediately insisted on. More fascinating is the cat and mouse that led Verstappen to try there: Hamilton had jinked right out of turn one after Verstappen had closed up on the straight, a perfectly timed defence move, which then persuaded Max to try into turn four while he was still close. A touch impatient, and you even get the impression Hamilton lured him into trying precisely at that turn, given Lewis was immediately and calmly on the radio with ‘off track, right?’ Max slowing down to let Lewis past probably took a little temperature out of his tyres too, just enough for Lewis to open up a gap. I thought Verstappen was certain to get past in the second DRS zone, it’s probably where he should have tried instead.

    1. @david-br Indeed. Obeying track limits is a different rule than leaving the track and gaining advantage. Hamilton played it very well.

  3. The rules have to be more evenly inforced than this though. How can the officials enforce a rule on a Saturday then decide not to during the race, then enforce said rule during the later stages of the race? That makes no sense.
    As others have mentioned, Hamilton was off the circuit at turn four for many laps long before anyone mentioned it during the commentary. He admitted himself that it was faster, yet he escaped any punishment. Now granted, Mercedes warned Lewis that he would get punished if he kept on going off the track at four, and he stopped doing it. My issue is that if he could not do that during quali then he should not be allowed to do it during the race. It’s an issue with the governing body and not with the teams.
    I can remember a recent Indycar race at COTA in which the drivers could exceed the track limits at certain corners and for me it ruined the challenge of the circuit.

    1. Leclerc, Noris, Ocon and others said post race that they were informed that race control wouldn’t be keeping an eye on track limits at turn 4 except a driver overtakes off track…. Making its use within the rules till Redbull complained and the brought a clampdown on off track driving there.

      Reply moderated
  4. Well said, Max. Let’s hope new cars in the next season will allow closer fight.

    1. @bulgarian For sure and I can’t see how they won’t. Simplified wings, no plethora of carbon bits everywhere, and tunnels underneath, along with cars making less dirty air for the car behind.

  5. Mercedes really had to sacrifice Hamilton’s strategy in order to gain track position. Still, it took Verstappen a very long time to catch up. Hamilton was faster on race day, which is probably something Red Bull didn’t expect when they chose their race plan. As it turned out, it was pretty hard for them to regain track position. However, had their strategies been the other way around, Hamilton likely would have passed Verstappen quite easily down the straight, so I don’t think Red Bull could have done much more this race. The pace just wasn’t really there.

    1. I think Max’s first stint was more telling about race pace. He just couldn’t pull away from the Mercedes of Hamilton. Lewis was within 2 seconds and was always a threat of pulling and undercut. If Red bull had really strong race pace, I reckon Max could have pulled a 3 to 4 second lead and covered himself well.

      Mercedes are still a really strong team.. I would think Red bull might be on par with them.. But definitely not ahead at this moment.

  6. The only mistake was to let Ham pass by moving off the racing line. He should’ve stayed on it so that he wouldn’t have got dirt on the tyres.

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