Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Paul Ricard, 2021

Red Bull “surprised” Mercedes left Hamilton vulnerable to Verstappen pit stop

2021 French Grand Prix

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Red Bull CEO Christian Horner says he was “surprised” Mercedes gave them the opportunity to get Max Verstappen ahead of Lewis Hamilton through the pits during the French Grand Prix.

Verstappen took the lead when Hamilton made his pit stop on lap 18. The Red Bull driver pitted a lap earlier and fitted fresh tyres which gave him the performance advantage which helped him get ahead of Hamilton.

Mercedes could have brought Hamilton in on the same lap as Verstappen. Horner said his team pitted Verstappen in response to Valtteri Bottas’ pit stop the lap before, and thinks it would have been logical for Mercedes to do the same with Hamilton.

“Bottas pitted, we had just enough to cover to him,” said Horner. “And I was surprised that they didn’t do the same with Lewis on the same lap because Max then had a stonking out-lap and managed to get track position.”

Having taken the lead of the race, Red Bull chose to bring Verstappen in for a second pit stop soon afterwards. This was a risky decision, as it left him needing to pass the two Mercedes drivers and his team mate to win the race, but it paid off.

Horner said the team was anxious not to repeat the situation it had been in at the Spanish Grand Prix, where Hamilton made a second pit stop while chasing Verstappen, and used his fresher tyres to catch and pass him.

“Mercedes were pushing very, very hard. And we just didn’t want to be in the same position as Barcelona. So it’s always a difficult thing to pit from the lead with, what, 21 laps to go, but that’s what we did. And whilst in the meantime, leaving Checo on a one stop.

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“And it worked out. Obviously Max had the pace to catch and pass the three cars ahead. It was crucial to get past Bottas quickly. And then it was great to get Lewis and a little bit of payback for Barcelona earlier in the year with a lap and a half to go.”

Had Mercedes successfully covered Verstappen’s first pit stop, Horner says it would have made it easier for Red Bull to commit to the two-stop strategy which potentially won them the race.

“It would have been easier if they’d have maintained track position, because then we would have pulled the trigger anyway. It would have made our decision easier.

“But to make that call when you’re in the lead and all the tyres are looking okay and so on, was quite a ballsy call, but it was the fastest way we felt to the end of the race.”

While Red Bull took pole position, Horner believes Mercedes were a stronger threat in race trim, and tactics made the difference.

“I think strategically we were better in that race,” he said. “There’s very, very little between the cars.

“I think arguably in the wind that we had today their race pace looked a bit more comfortable for them. With the wind, the high Mistral here, it was quite tricky out there. And I think with the lower downforce on the car, it wasn’t quite as secure as the Mercedes.”

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2021 French Grand Prix

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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...
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14 comments on “Red Bull “surprised” Mercedes left Hamilton vulnerable to Verstappen pit stop”

  1. Like I said in the other thread, Mercedes is so used to having things their own way and always able to go for the optimal strategy, that they hardly know what playing percentages is anymore.

    1. I agree. They dropped the ball here despite having the best and fastest car. The way both Lewis and Bottas could follow Max after that first stop says it all: Mercedes best car, Max icw RB strategy the winners. This season aint over yet but Mercedes will surely need to shape up their tactics (and start with George to grow your Lewis successor). Toto needs the in season swap with Bottas to let George get used to the car for the 2022 season

      1. The cars are going to be so different next season that I don’t think a swap would be useful for George. In fact not being as used to the car as Bottas may be a hindrance to Merc

        1. @randommallard That’s a bit contradictory! Precisely because the cars will be different, it seems a good time to switch drivers, especially given how quick GR was to adapt at his one race for Merc last year.

          1. @david-br My point was they shouldn’t switch in-season as Mayrton suggested, as there is no point spending time trying to get him super-adapted to this season’s car for it all to change next year. And the likely chassis modifications that would be needed would probably take up unnecessary time/money/resources in the middle of a championship battle.

          2. I’ve just realised I forgot to add ‘in-season’ in the original comment. It should read like this:

            The cars are going to be so different next season that I don’t think a mid-season swap would be useful for George. In fact not being as used to the car as Bottas may be a hindrance to Merc

          3. Ah OK, that now makes sense @randommallard ! Yep, I agree, no point in a mid-season swap.

          4. i do not think it will be that easy to keep control over george. Bottas is the perfect wingman but George is very eager to perform and will take points from Lewis.
            So that will not happen this season.
            Even Bottas is not allowed to finish before lewis btw.

  2. I also think that Mercedes is a bit used to Hamilton often being able to get a few more laps out of the tyres than Bottas is @balue. As well as maybe they were thinking that if they come in, Red Bull would just leave Verstappen out there to take the lead of the race (and stop Perez) and go longer, like Perez did now.

  3. Four races ago the headlines were Mercedes were the strategy kings and Hamilton unbeatable. Now its the end as we know it. A back marker, or day I say it; Bottas, managing to hold up Max for a second and the headlines would be Mercedes/Ham masterclass.
    Seems to me a few races ago Mercedes were a little sharper and now RB are.

    1. When we will look back to this season we will notice that Lewis and Mercedes only stayed in the game with a lot of luck.
      If they do not up the game they will fall back around halfway this season

      1. Totally. If you look at laps led and the the pole positions Verstappen has lost through error or circumstance, RBR could have been walking away with this thing already. MB pit wall and Hamilton are going to have to pull up their socks just to be in the fight now. And if Perez and solidify the form he has shown in flashes this year, it will be even harder for them.

  4. Seems like a reasonable comment from horner, it’s probably not as simple as mercedes is faster, but red bull had less downforce here to try and defend\attack on the straights, and that is probably what made them slower in corners and gave the impression (probably true) mercedes was a bit faster.

    1. But RBR was faster in S3, which Wolff admitted also. Another minor poit is that there was a headwind on the mistral, which some commentator had already noted before the race would punish the higher-drag cars more. As we saw Hamilton could barely close on Verstappen from .5s back with the wing open.

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