Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021

Mercedes strategy didn’t catch us by surprise – Red Bull

2021 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Red Bull stood by their strategy for the Bahrain Grand Prix after their chance of victory with Max Verstappen fell into the hands of rivals Mercedes.

Verstappen led the opening stages of the race from pole position, but fell behind Lewis Hamilton after the Mercedes driver was the first of the pair to pit.

Red Bull also brought Verstappen in later than Hamilton for his second pit stop, as the team sought to ensure he would have much fresher tyres for the final stint, allowing him to catch and pass the Mercedes driver. He succeeded in doing so, but was told to relinquish the position to Hamilton as he had run off the track at turn four while overtaking his rival.

But Red Bull’s chief engineer for car engineering Paul Monaghan said Mercedes’ strategy didn’t catch them out.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2021
Verstappen passed Hamilton – but had to let him by
“No, I wouldn’t say we were caught by surprise,” said Monaghan. “Yes, we could have stopped Max earlier for the second stop. But then you [would] catch Lewis with slightly older tyres. So equally he could have stopped later and had a race tyre advantage.

“So our stints were more even and we had a pace advantage at the end. [We] got past him once and then couldn’t get close enough again. So I don’t know if it slipped away, we more played our cards differently.

“In the end, running past a kerb by two metres, we had to give the place back and that’s it. So the car was capable of being quicker over the race.”

Following the race Verstappen said the team had paid the price of allowing Mercedes to claim track position over them.

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Monaghan took encouragement from the result, saying it proved Red Bull have a realistic chance to win the championship.

“The disappointment within the garage is palpable,” he said after the race, “yet we’re disappointed to be in second place. There are many people in the paddock who would give up an awful lot to have a trophy and 18 points in one drivers.

“We had pole, we’re quick, they’re going to have a fight on their hands, as are we throughout the season. So when one overcomes the initial disappointment, we’ve got a quick car, we’ve got a motivated pair of drivers and we get another go in Imola. And if we win it, this will be forgotten and we’ll just review it as history and we have to move on.”

“The prize at the end of the year is is very much within the grasp – at the moment – of ourselves and Mercedes,” he added. “Others will challenge.

“It gives you the realisation that we can challenge for this. We’ve got a fast car and we’ve just got to pick ourselves up from this one.

“As I say, we’ve got second place and we were fighting for the victory. It’s not as if we’ve been left behind. Everything’s motivated and – come on – there’s a championship to have here so let’s get on with it.”

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54 comments on “Mercedes strategy didn’t catch us by surprise – Red Bull”

  1. Believing your strategy was fine is the issue. With a faster/similarly paced car, track position and Max at the wheel, they lost the race only due to strategy. The only way to fix that is to see what went wrong. Just as Merc saw that stopping first was key, they should have seen that. That is when the race dynamic changed. Failing to see it or acting upon it was undeniably a strategic error (from my armchair opinion). Overtaking Lewis is not easy but the same is true about overtaking Max. If RBR fail to see their mistakes they will not prevent them.

    1. I disagree. Verstappen dropped the ball, trying to overtake one corner too early. A really tiny mistake all-in-all, unfortunately for him and RBR it was one with a large consequence.
      Still, despite the pole, this was Mercedes’ race to lose. With two cars at the front and a superior car on race pace – the result was rather predictable.

      1. Overtaking in turn 5 is both extremely rare and nigh impossible in cars with similar pace. So I can’t say it would’ve been wise to wait another corner. Bahrain has only two realistic overtaking opportunities in the current era of F1, and those are Turn 1 and Turn 4, after that, it’s a matter of easy positioning of the lead car to block any chance of an overtake unless the car behind is over a full second ahead in pace advantage and complete an overtake on one of the DRS straights before the turn.

        I agree that Red Bull’s assessment is correct in that Mercedes could have reacted to whatever tactic Red Bull chose here, Bottas being close enough at the first half of the race and Perez having to start from the pit lane simply limited both their defensive and offensive tactics. I don’t think the strategy department has much to be ashamed for here, they did what they could.

        1. @aiii True. This race could have gone either way in the end. Had Verstappen and Hamilton switched strategies, their roles would be reversed and it would again be a 50-50 situation (at best) for Red Bull, as in that situation Mercedes could have used Bottas as a road block. So staying on the optimal strategy was the best thing Red Bull could do, though I do think they expected Verstappen to reel in Hamilton faster at the end of the race.

          1. I heard Max tires went faster off then they thought they would. Max even commented on them driving behind Lewis even degraded his tires even faster.
            Would Lewis in Max shoes by switching strategies i think Lewis would lose his performance too in the end. Position was king here so the undercut was the right call.

        2. A bit off topic. About the turn 4 and the remark of racecontrol. F1 just released the top 10 best onboards, number 8, Ocon in Lap 20 did an overtake outside the white lines and didn’t get penalized.
          It wasn’t only strategy that made Lewis win, but also by having the favour of FIA on your side for not applying the rules thesame for every driver.

        3. I meant one opportunity too early, “one corner” being figure of speech here. T11 would have been better on the same lap, or T1 on the following lap.

          1. I disagree completely. Overtaking into Turn 11 is a non-starter, it’s not really possible, and overtaking into Turn 1 just means that Hamilton would get a chance to overtake him back on the run to T4 with DRS. Overtaking the car ahead as soon as possible is preferrable, as running in Hamilton’s dirty air for one more lap would only cause more harm than good. Trying the overtake there was absolutely the right decision, it’s just that the execution wasn’t good enough.

          2. Anon A. Mouse
            31st March 2021, 20:54

            @mashiat while true, Hamilton may have had the chance to overtake back on the run to T4, Max potentially could have played the same placement cards that Hamilton did, forcing Hamilton to try an overtake around the outside or back out of the move.

      2. @ Ivaylo: Even with the Bulls’ race engineer saying they have the faster car, that “the car was capable of being quicker over the race…”, you are still saying the Mercs have a superior car? unbelievable!

        1. Who cares who said what? Have you watched the Bahrain GP? Or did you outsource that to Rocky as well?

          1. hmmm, so it does matter what the RBR’s own engineer says about their own car? Or you rather we believe what you are saying against the team’s own engineer? mind-bending.
            And of course I watched the race from lights out to chequered flag!

          2. That and Verstappen saying he’d easily be able to pull out a five second gap in three laps if they’d let him.

      3. I agree. Having caught Hamilton, Verstappen only had to pick the right moment to take advantage of DRS. Also the 11 lap tire advantage he should have had over Hamilton seems spent with 4 laps to go. I say that as he just could not catch Lewis for another Go.

        In fact had Max not given the position back its likely that Lewis would have sat on his tail and then used DRS to make the move Verstappen failed to make.

      4. What metric indicates Mercedes had better race pace?

    2. yeah, the other strategy didn’t work for them in the past, so it made sense to keep him out. Remember when Lewis pitted later and catched&overtook in the past, that happened a lot. That’s probably due to the straight line speed that they have, RBR couldnt do anything. Next time they will probably try other strategy, if it works or not, thats different story.

    3. No, they couldn’t do the undercut because Bottas would have been left out to block their progress.

      It was the classic check-mate strategy by Mercedes of having both drivers in the mix.

    4. Merc and Hamilton committed fraud before, during and after the race.

  2. The strategy seemed fine to me, Verstappen just messed up the chance they had. Mercedes gambled big with their strategy thinking the tyres could last that long and it paid off this time but only just.

    1. @slowmo You say ‘only just’ (and I agree btw) but they also say that the best racing car is the one that fails just after the finish line so in that sense MB did the perfect strategy.

      1. @chimaera2003 it did indeed turn out perfect in the end. I actually think their strategy was even better than most people realised but was wrecked by the bad stop for Bottas. Had Bottas not lost all that time on his stop then he would have been 27-30 seconds behind Max with fresh tyres to push. They could have forced Red Bull to pit a lot earlier as they would have run the risk of falling behind Bottas too on the undercut in the second stop. Bottas could have been used to force Red Bull to choose between a earlier stop than they wanted at the end or give up track position to Bottas too.

        In summary the Mercedes strategy was the only way they could win but people forget that Red Bull could still have turned the tide had they got a Safety car in the 20 laps or so they ran longer on their stints too. That combined with the fact that there is no guarantee the Red Bull could make its tyres last as long as Mercedes and they also didn’t have 2 sets of new Hard tyres to use either. The Red Bull strategy wasn’t a mistake for me and I honestly don’t see what they could have done differently once they committed to using some of the Hard tyres in practice. That was the mistake they made if anything over the weekend as it limited their options in the race.

        1. Very good summary, I agree with you that their tyre strategy from practice and historical ability to make tyres last less than Mercedes (although Sergio’s talentvn that area will hopefully make the difference when he starts from the front) are critical factors.

        2. F1oSaurus (@)
          31st March 2021, 18:04


          Had Bottas not lost all that time on his stop then he would have been 27-30 seconds behind Max with fresh tyres to push.

          Bottas could actually have come out ahead of Verstappen if he hadn’t lost those 8 seconds. Verstappen was less than 8 seconds ahead of Bottas after Verstappen made his stop. Bottas’s undercut would potentially have worked too.

  3. I would summarise that Red Bull grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory. Very impressive.

  4. ColdFly (@)
    31st March 2021, 8:54

    Firstly I like the positive attitude coming across from these quotes.

    And whereas during the race I thought they waited too long, it Sib seemed to make a lot of sense (copying Lewis would probably hand the victory to Bottas, not knowing his pit stop issues yet).
    The only mistake in my eyes is putting Max on mediums at the first stop. But I guess they hoped to catch Lewis during that middle stint quicker.

    1. @coldfly going into the race, Red Bull only had one fresh set of hard tyres to use, whereas Mercedes had saved two sets of the hard tyres. It means that at least one stint in the race was going to have to be done on the medium tyres – in which case, I guess the only question is whether you feel they should have gone with the mediums for the middle or final stint.

      That said, if it was for the final stint, could Max have closed up quickly enough without the risk that he could take too much out of the tyres in the process?

      1. ColdFly (@)
        31st March 2021, 9:52

        thanks for clarifying that @anon,
        As an interested sideline commentator it just felt like keeping your options open could be interesting.
        Maybe they could eke out the middle stint hards enough to go for an aggressive final stint on softs.

  5. Clearly Mercedes had strong race pace because Hamilton could hover around just behind Verstappen’s dirty air. From that situation, track position would almost certainly be lost as soon as Mercedes went for the undercut, so Red Bull had to go for the optimal stints. Shame Max couldn’t make the pass cleanly, but Lewis kept it tidy (apart from pushing wide onto the back straight), and an F1 car is very hard to overtake.

    I’m not sure there was anything else they could have done. Leading the first stint is great, but a fast car in second place has the tactical advantage.

    1. Or, as we’ve seen many times before, the race leader maintains a fixed gap to the car behind. Verstappen saying he could have pulled out a five second lead in three laps doesn’t suggest he thought the Mercedes was quicker.

      1. Not a like for like comparison.

        At the end of the race Max was on much fresher tyres and wanted to pull a gap to counter the penalty (which was not an option, race control would have just increased the penalty until he was back behind Hamilton).

        At the start of the race, on the same tyres, he couldn’t shake Hamilton out of the undercut window. If he could have done he should have. He only needed to be a couple of seconds further up the road to be safe.

        1. Shake Hamilton when? Hamilton pitted on L14, with a couple of those laps being run behind the SC. The first stint gives no indication of which was the faster car. Both HAM and VER pitted with some life left in their tires and the lead VER pulled out on about 10 laps of running was about 2s. To say the Merc was the faster car, based on the first stint is jumping to a poor conclusion based on incomplete data.

    2. I agree that Lewis in the Mercedes had good race pace, which includes the ability to keep the hard tyres alive. If you look at the final stint, Max had 10 lap newer hard tyres, but could only close in at 0.5s per lap. On the final stint Lewis did 24 out of 27 laps in the window of 94-95s, how he managed to avoid almost any drop off was key.

  6. They didn’t consider Hamilton in their plan. He is not a seven time world champion for nothing.

    1. And certainly they had confidence in the faster pace of their car and probably thought they would overtake easily with a faster car on fresher tyres!!!
      So yeah, they underestimated what Hamilton could do on those old tyres; they will learn from it.
      In a tight contest, they can’t afford such underestimation!!!

      1. F1oSaurus (@)
        31st March 2021, 17:55

        Verstappen even thought he would be able to pull a 5 or 10 second gap over the last 3 or 4 laps. While in reality he couldn’t even attack Hamilton anymore.

  7. petebaldwin (@)
    31st March 2021, 9:32

    They got it wrong. The data may have said one thing but they need to factor in the real world as well. Having to catch up by 7 seconds and make a pass is very difficult even in a faster car. They wanted him to have fresher tyres but then made him drive very hard on those tyres to close up a big gap over a limited number of laps.

    It’s easy to blame Verstappen for making a mistake when overtaking but if their strategy gave him 1 chance to overtake someone like Lewis when they weren’t faster down the straights, it was a strategy as there was a high chance of failure.

    They need to learn to lead from the front instead of always chasing someone.

    1. F1oSaurus (@)
      31st March 2021, 17:53

      @petebaldwin Hamilton did manage this in Hungary 2019. But then Verstappen panicked, tried to keep a gap to Hamilton and in doing so ruined his tyres 8 laps before the end of the race. On a circuit where overtaking is almost impossible he could have handled that much better.

      That was really the difference. Hamilton just kept a cool head, stuck to his pace and managing his tyres he kept his tyres more or less alive till the end.

  8. There’s a difference in what you say, it’s Verstappen, he has nothing to lose, he is usually hungry for championship and do what’s needed, unlike Hamilton, he knows that he needs to be careful and cannot win the championship in the first race, he is always more careful when he races against aggressive Vestappen, but not other way around. In fact, Verstappen is very sure and confident about himself to overtake whoever on the field. So, Hamilton has championship to lose, and Verstappen has championship to win this season.

    I really think that Merc is going to catch up and go ahead of RBR after the second part of the year, so I dont believe that RBR can get the championship this year. The maximum we see will be like Ferrari vs Merc 2018.

  9. I think DAS that merc had last year was to confuse and occupy other teams, not to win with that, they developed it because they had much more free budget and technical know-how. And in the meantime, I believe, they developed other good stuff which is really helping them which they are keeping secret. They will focus on 2022 latest by June. It’s better to win the next 4-5 years after 2022 than to focus and win 2021 only.

  10. With a 2nd driver in the mix it would all be different, and it’s been like this for years now. I bet the team is secretly regretting snubbing Alonso.

    1. Looking at Perez pace in Bahrein I bet you that he’ll soon be in the mix, @balue.
      And I doubt that Bottas will have constant strong Sunday’s (except for the pit stop) like he had this week.

      Even though Perez is no Ricciardo or even Alonso (in retrospect and with the technical explanations he had a very strong weekend), but I still believe that RBR will be more often in a 2-to-1 position vs Mercedes than the other way around.

      1. *Looking at Perez’ pace in Bahrain

      2. Good point about Perez, i just hope we see the real Bottas when it matters.

    2. @balue I think given the issue Perez had on the formation lap it’s worth giving him a free pass this week. You’re right that if you have nobody to pressure Mercedes from behind they can roll the dice with no penalty for the chance to win. Verstappen stole some second places last year from having that opportunity where you can gamble on strategy and the worst case scenario was he’d finish third and best was he’d have a chance at first or second.

    3. @coldfly @slowmo I wasn’t meaning to say Perez will not join the front eventually, it was more an observation on the race strategy as is the topic, and also RBR’s history on this. With an Alonso in the team I’m sure he would have been on the front row now, or at the very least 2nd row and likely ahead of Bottas in the race.

      Bottas is always on the front 2 rows after qualifying (Crofty was mentioning his great stats here), and it doesn’t really matter if he’s close or far from the lead as that will still block any undercut attempts.

      1. That’s where probably RBR’s strategy missed it, @balue.
        Perez was ‘just’ 0.3s behind Verstappen on Saturday, a feat only 2 team pairings bettered.
        RBR should have played it safe and put him on softs in Q2 and aim for 2nd or 3rd in Q3 to (strategically) protect Verstappen’s drive for the win.
        It’s almost chess isn’t it ;)

        1. @coldfly Yes, it was a strategic mistake even if Perez has said it was his fault for not being fast enough. They just felt they had to take the gamble to get him on mediums, but that’s how it is being behind. You can’t play percentages and it’s almost ingrained in the team now that every single little thing has to maxed out, and that’s obviously risky and produce mistakes.

  11. RBR May not have been surprised by Mercedes strategy, but I’m certain they were surprised by Hamilton’s pace at the end.

    I’m pretty sure they expected Max to just cruise up behind and then pass easily because they’d assumed that Hamilton’s tyres would be completely finished and he’d drop off the pace. I think everyone else thought so too, so either Mercedes is better than we thought or Hamilton was just plain brilliant.

    Not sure that RBR really could afford the loss as I expect Mercedes to have improved within a race or two.

    1. they were surprised by Hamilton’s pace at the end.

      I’d argue that the Mercedes pace was good throughout the race. @dbradock
      Hamilton stuck to Verstappen in the 1st stint even when in dirty air.
      Verstappen couldn’t close the gap quickly when on softer and fresher tyres in stint 2.
      And they only ‘lost’ Bottas due to the bodged pit stop.

      Not sure that RBR really could afford the loss as I expect Mercedes to have improved within a race or two.

      I remain optimistic for the season as RBR has never been this close at the start of the season, Perez was very solid for race 1, and I doubt that Bottas will remain at this level (based on observing the past x seasons).

      1. I agree their pace was good and didn’t say it wasn’t. – I just think RBR had assumed that it would drop off badly near the end because of the length of the stint they had committed to as part of their “strategy” & got that assumption wrong.

    2. Kuch, turn 4 exploit gave 4-5 seconds on Max so he could keep pace easy. It’s not that in race pace the RedBull is seconds faster on the mediums Mercedes was on par only on the c4 (hard) was Red Bull 0.1 seconds faster. Only during qualflier the speed is much bigger but still the mercedes is not slow just not as fast as the Red Bull.

  12. Simple for me really Max blew it. He still needs work on Sunday’s. Fastest car all weekend with pole position. All he needed was to overtake Lewis. 🤦‍♂️ The generational talent on grid without a doubt is Lewis.

  13. Normal Max overtakes Lewis easy but you need overspeed for that which was dropping al the time. Just look on when Max would cautches Lewis and when he really caught him. 10 rounds before the end compaired with the real 3-4 rounds from the end. They miscalculated the tyre degrading just a tad.

  14. Bottom line for me is as TW said it…the racing gods were on their side. LH didn’t do anything Max wouldn’t be able to as well, and Mercedes did the better job of getting track position, and dirty air took care of the rest. “You can’t pass with these cars” is something LH has been saying since he won the WDC in 2015 and ended up finding himself behind Nico for seven straight races. Brawn said it in his summation of last weekend’s race too, paraphrasing, ‘this is why we have changed the cars so much for next year.’ Without the advantage of having Max in his dirty air, LH would have been toast, and kudos to LH and Mercedes for getting themselves there.

    There’s no other driver on the grid more capable of taking the fight to LH/Mercedes this year than MV/RBR, and take it to him he will.

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