Verstappen was “a sitting duck” to faster Mercedes regardless of strategy

2021 Spanish Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen said he could see himself losing the lead of the Spanish Grand Prix during the early laps, as Lewis Hamilton was clearly faster.

Hamilton had taken pole at Barcelona but Verstappen made a better start and passed Hamilton on inside of turn one.

However, Verstappen said after the race he knew there was a chance of losing the lead by the end of his initial, 24-lap stint on the soft tyre.

“In a way I could see it coming already. At the end [on] the softs, he was faster and when we put on the mediums he was clearly had a lot more pace, he could just stay within one second so there was not much we could’ve done.”

Hamilton eventually passed Verstappen after making an extra pit stop for another set of medium tyres.

“They went for another stop and then I knew it was over because I was already struggling with the tyres and you could see that every lap he was getting closer and closer so. [I was] a bit of a sitting duck.”

Red Bull opted not to pit Verstappen a second time, in response to Mercedes’ strategy with Hamilton. He said that the choice was difficult either way.

“When you’re in the lead, with the cars behind, with traffic and so on you don’t want to pit in traffic but of course it makes it a lot easier when you have a pace advantage. They clearly have more pace in the cars.

“So for us, even if we had jumped for another stop, I’m not sure if we would have caught up again but nevertheless, I tried everything I could.”

Verstappen did pit a second time, after being passed by Hamilton, in order to take the fastest lap bonus point.

Nonetheless, he said there was clearly work for Red Bull to do. “It shows that we are not there, where we want to be. So we have to push hard and catch up because at the moment, we are a little bit slower. But still, nevertheless, compared to last year, I think it’s been a big jump forwards.

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2021 Spanish Grand Prix

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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67 comments on “Verstappen was “a sitting duck” to faster Mercedes regardless of strategy”

  1. Toto Wolf :
    “this race demonstrates we don’t have yet the fastest car and that Red Bull has more pace than us”


  2. All this talk about strategy this, strategy that is overrated.

    Mercedes was the fastest car today by a million miles. Verstappen shouldn’t have even been in contention for victory if it wasn’t for his stunning overtake at the start.

    Mercedes has far better tyre wear on long stints, not much you can do about that.

    1. Well, they did make some good progress vs prior year. Lets see whether some tweaks in season can deliver a car that can fiercely compete with the Mercedes

    2. Mercedes was the fastest car today by a million miles.

      Such hyperbole makes a nonsense of your statement. Red Bull were clearly better on the Softs, whereas Mercedes had better pace on the Mediums. Max pulled out a 1.4s gap before the end of the first lap!

      Indeed, Mercedes (in Lewis’s hands) had slightly better overall pace, but they won the race totally due to superior strategy. Even with DRS, Lewis couldn’t overtake Max on a track where track position is key if there isn’t a huge differential between the cars.

      This one is totally about the superior Mercedes strategy combined with a relentless Lewis Hamilton with his better tyre management.

      They simply caught Red Bull napping. Never mind that Red Bull beat a Mercedes in a fastest race lap shootout. Again.

      A million miles, my foot!

      1. Strategy won the race but it was pretty clear the Merc was faster throughout. Lewis stuck right behind him for the first stint and go so close it forced Max into an unannoucned first pit-stop, and then after they put the mediums on the pace differential was pretty sizeable.

      2. What part of the first stint made you think RB was faster on the softs? Just the typical lap 1 gap that drivers in the lead pull pretty much every race?
        Lewis was hot on MV’s tale throughout that stint and had closed right in before the first round of stops.

      3. @kbdavies
        You only need to look where Perez is compared to Bottas, then you realize that Mercedes was easily faster today, probably by close to a second per lap advantage.

        1. this perez argument is absolutely awful as the guy is clearly struggling with a car he barely tested with. Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas all have 4+ seasons driving for the same teams and cars with similar characteristics.

          1. Agreed, testing is limited especially this season so it takes awhile for new drivers to get used to new cars.

    3. @kingshark Ha, ha, ha. Sure just keep telling yourself that. Together with Verstappen and his shoulders bouncing up and down for the excuses he’s making.

      Hamilton had the fore thought to have the needed tyres available for the race. The fact that Verstappen didn”t is on him. Or he could have tried on softs as several others did.

      1. @f1osaurus
        Perez was once again nowhere near Bottas, just like in Bahrain and Portugal. It’s pretty obvious what the best car is if you look at the results of the second drivers.

        1. @kingshark Lol, Perez is just horrible in general and he admits he doesn’t know how to drive the car. The fact that they put yet another mediocre driver in that second car is on Red Bull alone. They ruined any chance they had on a good second driver when they stated they would fully build the team around Verstappen.

          The fact that someone like Verstappen, proven not to be that amazing at qualifying, was so far ahead in FP3 and Q2 and then only slightly behind in Q3 the absolute master of the fastest lap, shows Red Bull has the faster car, but lacks the driver to make it happen when it counts.

          The fact that Verstappen was 1.3s faster than Bottas and 2.5s faster than Hamilton shows that Verstappen had a huge amount of “hidden “reserves” on race pace as well. He was simply caught napping thinking he had it in the bag and just had to cruise it out till the end.

          1. ColdFly (@)
            9th May 2021, 17:35

            Verstappen was 1.3s faster than Bottas

            Did you even notice that Bottas set the fastest first sector (.205 faster than Verstappen) but then aborted his fast lap as he ran into the dirty air of Norris in front of him?

          2. @coldfly Bottas had a few attempts. And sure, Verstappen was slower in sector 1. In fact wasn’t it even Ricciardo who had the fastest sector 1 in quali?

          3. f1 saurus, he means in the race, one of the last laps; it’s indeed ricciardo who got the fastest sector 1 in quali, but the margins were almost irrelevant there, mercedes gained in the 2nd sector in quali and red bull with a proper driver (1 car) gained on the last sector.

          4. CTRL-C CTRL-V

        2. @kingshark Perez was a second off Verstappen in qualifying. He complained of a painful shoulder. So really his pace during the race is subject to question too. It’s not a reliable parameter. And he is slower in general (probably more so than Bottas).

          1. @david-br
            Looks like the revisionism has already begun. Perez, who has always been rated as an excellent driver for almost a decade now, has suddenly become bad when teaming up with Verstappen.

            The truth is that Red Bull isn’t really that good, and Verstappen is just otherworldly.

          2. @kingshark Yeah hos fans think Perez has done great. When in reality he’s always been a mid field level driver competing with the likes of Gasly and Albon. Also got completely destroyed by Button when he did get his chance of a top team driver. it’s staggering peopel actually trhought he could perform at the top level, but still

            Besides that he himself has stated he does not know how to properly driver the car yet and that he was injured and unable to driver properly because of that too. So even if he was all that, he would still have been massively down on pace.

            The truth is that Verstappen is like all those other people who think what Hamilton doing is easy. Just get the fastest car and win all the time. Verstappen had the fastest or equal pace car from the start and has won only one race.

          3. @f1osaurus
            We’ve already seen Perez and Bottas compete with equal cars in 2016. Perez came out on top with more podiums and points. He’s a better driver than Bottas and has always been. The enormous pace difference between them is an accurate reflection of the competitiveness of Mercedes vs Red Bull.

            Bottas actually finished behind Maldonado 9-5 when they were teammates at Williams, so don’t glorify him.

          4. @kingshark Personally no revisionism. I’ve never rated Perez that much beyond his undoubted talent with looking after tyres. In fact I unrevised that opinion slightly when he outqualified Verstappen this year. But so far that performance has been an exception. The fact is both Hamilton and Verstappen are in teams that look to maximize their talent and sacrifice some stability (comfort margins) for speed, knowing that the other driver, Bottas or Perez, may find the car more difficult to drive.

        3. @f1osaurus
          Perez is better than Bottas though. His career in midfield cars is superior to Bottas and he has quality drives that Bottas cannot even dream of (Malaysia 2012, Monza 2012, Bahrain 2014, Russia 2015, Monaco 2016, Sakhir 2020).

          So if Perez can’t get any pace out of this Red Bull, then the most likely answer is that the Red Bull probably isn’t that good of a car anyway (I doubt it’s much faster than Ferrari/McLaren) and Verstappen is an alien for keeping up with Mercedes in a car that is approximately 1 second per lap slower.

          1. @kingshark Perez was beaten by Stroll last season until Stroll’s season ended when he lost confidence after the car tried to kill him and he suffered for 3 races with Covid.

          2. @f1osaurus
            You mention that Stroll has COVID but don’t mention that Perez had it too (and actually missed two races instead of just one). It amazes me how dishonest one poster can be.

            Perez beat Hulkenberg, that’s better than any driver Bottas has ever beaten in his career.

          3. @kingshark Perez had it for one race, Stroll 3. Plus for Stroll it came at the time when the car was a lot more competitive.

            Do you even think these things through before you post then? Or do you just knee jerk that nonsense down and be done?

            Bottas beat Massa. A potential WDC. Bottas is also performing reasonably close to the GOAT.

          4. @f1osaurus
            Perez missed both the British Grand Prix and 70th anniversary Grand Prix because of COVID. Stroll missed one race (Nurburgring). It’s unhealthy to lie as much as you do in your posts. All you do is ruin your credibility, but you don’t have any credibility anyway so it doesn’t matter.

            Hulkenberg was definitely a better driver than post-2010 Massa, therefore Perez beating Hulkenberg is a lot more impressive than Bottas beating Massa.

          5. Davethechicken
            9th May 2021, 19:18

            I said it before he was hired by RBR and nothing has changed mt view. Perez is a journeyman. Safe pair or midfield hands and a thoroughly decent human being.
            He is barely even in the top 10 best drivers of the current grid.
            That’s what RBR wanted when they hired him. They didn’t want someone at a Riccardo’swho might challenge Max and cause internal friction. .

    4. ColdFly (@)
      9th May 2021, 16:42

      It’s close enough to have an exciting season.

    5. ian dearing
      9th May 2021, 16:46

      Yea, it’s almost as one driver can look after his tyres better than the other one?

      Or maybe Newey doesn’t know how to design a car that looks after its tyres?

      1. That’s quite an accusation at one of the greatest f1 car designers of all time, and one that we know is untrue

    6. It’s possible that the 7 times world champion black guy is better on tires than the young white guy with no accomplishments or achievements in F1, I know its hard to accept, but every time max wins its all him and when black guy 7 times world champion LEWIS wins its all Mercedes

      1. Pjotr (@pietkoster)
        9th May 2021, 18:19

        Check! You see the truth. VES Youngest driver in action during a GP Weekend, Youngest driver ever to star a GP, Youngest driver ever to score points in a GP, Youngest ever leading a GP, Youngest ever to get the podium in a GP, Youngest winner ever of a GP, Youngest driver ever to become driver of the day, Youngest driver ever to have a fastest lap in a GP, Youngest driver ever on first row, Youngest driver ever to win the same GP Twice, driver with the most overtakes in one season. Yeah, were missing the most important: WDC.

      2. What’s race got to do with it? Grow up.

    7. lexusreliabilty?
      9th May 2021, 20:08


      The truth is that Red Bull isn’t really that good, and Verstappen is just otherworldly.

      Yeah tell that to Horner and Red Bull who know they created a weapon at the very least fast enough to win all 4 races. Also, who of note has Verstappen beaten? Defeated by Ricciardo twice and made Albon and Galsy look second rate which we already knew they were. If you want to use that warped logic then Max needs to beat a descent team mate before you can mke outlandish claims like “otherworldy”

      1. Verstappen was very young back when he lost to ricciardo and was in an improving trend, he was destroying him in 2018 pace wise, ricciardo chose to leave red bull and hasn’t won a race since leaving (hence left for worse teams)!

    8. Blasphemy @kingshark. 2+2=5. You better accept it.

  3. Mercedes engine still as strong as it has ever been. RBR need Perez to figure out this car more than ever since I think they are down on power. Perez needs to use the Newey downforce the same way Max does because on straights they are sitting ducks.

    1. They are not down on power. Straight line analysis showed that Red Bull faster in quali for Imola.

      For this weekend, in Q3 Verstappen had 307.3 at the speed trap and Hamilton 305.8.

      Besides, Verstappen’s fastest lap was 1.3s!!!! faster than Bottas. But sure, Mercedes had the “hidden” reserves.

      1. ColdFly (@)
        9th May 2021, 16:48

        For this weekend, in Q3 Verstappen had 307.3 at the speed trap and Hamilton 305.8.

        Straight line speed is more dependent on the wings (and tow) than the PU.
        If your PU is strong enough you can use more wing. And even if that costs you a bit on the straight, you’ll get it back double in the curvy bits.

        I recall that yesterday Mazepin had the highest top speed.
        I doubt that this was due to his Ferrari PU, but more due to his set-up preference for an easy spinning car ;)

        1. @coldfly You are arguing to the wrong person.

          Straight line speed is more dependent on the wings (and tow) than the PU

          Sure, but I’m replying to someone who claims that the better straight line speed of the Mercedes cars shows Mercedes PU is better.

          So simply pointing out that in fact Red Bull had the better straight line speed should really end that.

          Although this has been the case for all races this year and still we keep seeing this incorrect remark that Mercedes has superior straight line speed. And indeed, I agree that smaller teams usually have higher speed trap figures. Showing even further how nonsensical this claim is.

          1. ColdFly (@)
            9th May 2021, 17:48

            @coldfly You are arguing to the wrong person.

            Indeed, I seem to argue with someone who doesn’t understand what I wrote, but it’s fun anyway.

            A stronger PU helps you with acceleration, not top speed if that added power is offset by using more wings.
            And in addition, more wing gives you a relative advantage when in tow, and especially when using DRS.

            Thus indeed as Bill mentioned, a stronger PU (and more wing) could make the other car a ‘sitting duck’ on the straights as the wing helps you to stay close in the turns, and the tow/DRS eradicates that offset when on the straight.

            I know, it’s a bit more complex that parroting fastest lap times and top speeds :P

  4. Embarrassing strategic error by Red Bull. This has happened to them before. I don’t understand why they made the same mistake. It doesn’t matter that Mercedes had a quicker car. Red Bull essentially gave up fighting for the win mid-race.

    1. @carbon_fibre There was nothing they really could do with Bottas and no Perez there.

  5. I don’t agree that Mercedes had the faster car, but the strategy made it so when it mattered. The won the race by being faster when there was a chance to make a move. RBR had the fastest lap by a lot more than the soft-medium tyre delta.

    1. But that missing difference between fastest laps is probably because hamilton, once the race was won, stopped pushing.

  6. Have to disagree with this. Even if Hamilton was faster than Verstappen, it wasn’t much different from the way Verstappen was faster than Hamilton in the opening race in Bahrain – and yet won. There’s nothing ‘given’ about either team winning. Red Bull had track position. This may come down to Hamilton setting a slightly slower time in Q2, nursing his race tyres in better, and driving better in the race.

    1. What you mention was his first attempt in Q2. HAM set his fast lap on the second attempt in Q2 with a scrubbed set, which he used for the race.

      1. @macademianut It was still a slower lap. Though it’s intriguing that he used that set when he could have slowed down and aborted that second lap and still qualified for Q3 comfortably as the slower drivers had already completed their final laps.

        1. Have been looking at news if someone asked this question to HAM or Mercedes. But no news yet. Am curious as well.

  7. Adam (@rocketpanda)
    9th May 2021, 16:58

    Given Hamilton never dropped lower than about 1.6 off the back of Verstappen I’d say the only reason Verstappen was ahead of him at the start was the overtake off the line and that Catalunya is difficult to overtake. Once Hamilton was on a superior tyre strategy he blew past Verstappen like he wasn’t there, and I don’t see anything there to suggest Red Bull could have made a similar strategy work – the Mercedes was simply a better car and in Hamilton’s hands it elevates it further.

    1. Its possible that the 7 times world champion is just better than a young guy with no achievements or accomplishments in F1

      1. Yes, that might be true. But that has no relation whatoever with what is being said. I really dont get that urge to prove Hamiltons worth vs Max. Yes, Lewis is great. Max too. Lewis has the advantage of lots of experience and the strongest car out there for 8 years. Max makes it all worth watching since his ability to get more out of tue car than any other team mate just puts him in contention with Lewis. Lewis then beating him and using that as a source for saying he is better is actually an insult to Lewis I guess. Ofcourse he is faster

    2. @rocketpanda Verstappen showed he could go a lot faster. 1.3s faster than Bottas and 2.5s faster than Hamilton. So maybe Verstappen should not have been cruising and let Hamilton get so close? Or at the very least they should have realized that the tyres were never going to last till the end.

      It’s not like they didn’t make exactly the same mistake in Hungary 2019 and could have learned from that.

      You also forget that Verstappen blinked first and stopped way too early. Even without being called in by his team! That means he’s already on 4 lap older tyres for the end of the race.

      1. Yeah and Lewis showed in qualy he could go even faster than this. Why did he hold back during the race so much didn’t he get the FLAP?

        [Face palm]

  8. lexusreliability?
    9th May 2021, 17:04

    Max was already waving the white flag on team radio before Hamilton even pitted.

  9. Pjotr (@pietkoster)
    9th May 2021, 18:23

    Great show today. Had lots of excitement. Ham excellent, good strategy from Merc. RB need a little more speed, Max better support from his no 2. More of this please.

  10. Max was a sitting duck for that undercut because Perez ruined qualy.

    That is what cost him the win imho, nothing else.

    1. RP (@slotopen)
      9th May 2021, 23:16


      This is what puzzles me. It seems so obvious what happened was that Perez got too far behind to protect Verstappen. Bottas was there to slow Verstappen, so he couldn’t pit and response to Hamilton’s second stop.

      If Perez had been keeping up with the lead pack Hamilton would not have been able to pit a second time.

      1. Verstappen could’ve responded to hamilton’s 2nd stop, there’s no way bottas could’ve kept him behind for long, they just weren’t sure they had the pace to do it.

        1. I mean to catch hamilton ofc, surely they had the pace to pass bottas.

  11. Well, strategy did play a role in letting Hamilton fight and get that win @kingshark, otherwise he’d have been behind Verstappen, faster but not by enough to get by, unless Verstappen made a mistake. But I do agree in that it seems likely that whatever strategy Verstappen had would have been battling against Hamilton having similar pace on the softs and more pace for longer on the mediums.

  12. Davethechicken
    9th May 2021, 19:19

    I said it before he was hired by RBR and nothing has changed mt view. Perez is a journeyman. Safe pair or midfield hands and a thoroughly decent human being.
    He is barely even in the top 10 best drivers of the current grid.
    That’s what RBR wanted when they hired him. They didn’t want someone at a Riccardo’swho might challenge Max and cause internal friction.

    1. I think they might’ve been better off with a ricciardo and I hoped perez could be one.

  13. Can’t disagree with this. Hamilton could have taken the lead after Max’s slow pit-stop and pulled away and Mercedes could have extended the second stint from Hamilton until he overtook Verstappen. There was no way the Red Bull could have kept Hamilton behind.

  14. and yet, had he pitted 1 lap after Hamilton, he would have retained the lead, and probably could put up a stronger resistance.

    1. Yes, that would’ve been the only chance to win for red bull, I was however surprised, and maybe red bull was too, that he still had enough margin, I was sure hamilton would’ve been ahead, maybe he didn’t push the first lap after pitting, knowing verstappen stayed out.

      1. Nevermind, he couldn’t know that since the lap wasn’t done yet, very odd.

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