Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2021

Horner hails Verstappen’s “absolutely insane” pole lap with minimal downforce

2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Christian Horner hailed Max Verstappen’s pole lap for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix as “absolutely insane” given how little downforce he was running on his Red Bull.

Verstappen secured the most important pole position of the season by over three-and-a-half tenths from title rival Lewis Hamilton with his first flying lap in Q3.

Horner explained the team had trimmed the downforce levels on Verstappen’s car to minimal levels ahead of the session in an effort to compete with the high-speed performance of the Mercedes on the straights.

“I think that’s one of Max’s best laps of the year,” Horner told Sky.

“We lowered the downforce – it was the only way of matching these guys on the straights. I must admit, after Q1, I thought, ‘wow, those kind of times that Lewis was knocking, we can’t do that’. But then Q2 came more towards us.”

Verstappen’s efforts were boosted by a planned tow from team mate Sergio Perez, who deliberately backed off along the back straights in Q3 to give Verstappen the help of a slipstream on his flying lap.

“Checo working with his team mate to give him that tow down the two straights was absolute perfect teamwork today,” said Horner.

“We discussed the slipstream this morning. I think Checo has been the dutiful team mate. He’s sacrificed an optimum lap for him to give his team mate that performance and you can’t ask for more than that.”

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However Horner doesn’t believe the slipstream alone was what secured Verstappen’s 10th and potentially most important pole position of the season.

“The tow was probably worth a tenth or two, not half a second. And I think that his last sector, when you look at the level of downforce he’s got on, is insane. It’s absolutely insane.”

While Verstappen will start ahead of Hamilton in the race, he will do so on different tyres to his rival. The Red Bull driver was forced set a faster lap time on soft tyres after flat-spotting his medium tyres with a lock up under braking for turn one. However, Horner does not believe it will compromise Verstappen’s race

“When we discussed it this morning it’s very much 50-50,” Horner explained. “We’re not overly upset, starting on the softs. The medium is a bit more robust, but the deg[redation] in the race is going to be very interesting to see how that plays out.”

Asked about what Red Bull need to do to ensure they will prevail over Mercedes in tomorrow’s race, Horner says Verstappen simply needs to keep the lead at the start and then drive his own race.

“I think we’ve just got to run our best race tomorrow. We’ve got to get our head down, get the start and run the fastest race that we can. And hopefully that will be good enough to beat Lewis. That’s what we’ve got to got to focus on.”

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2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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31 comments on “Horner hails Verstappen’s “absolutely insane” pole lap with minimal downforce”

  1. Lower downforce feels like it’s going to hurt the tyres tomorrow. This feels very Jeddah to me.

    1. Not necessarily, it can also decrease tire wear its not that simple.
      And in Jeddah it had something to do with someone running into the rear tires.

    2. Yeah, unfortunately Redbull has to take these decisions since Mercs pace is on a different level. Quali was never that important for Mercs, they can start from 10th and still win it.

    3. Having said that, I do believe RB. Their race stints yesterday were on the soft. They clearly anticipated running the softs in the race.

      1. yeah, but they would have practiced with less fuel, not under full loads.

        The track has been resurfaced so that might play a part on tire life, but i still cant see them holding out against the mediums.

        I very much doubt they are better than the Mercs by 0.5 a lap, so i cant see they getting ahead by more than 10 seconds on those softs, assuming they even manage 20 laps on those tires.

        All things being equal, the advantage is very much with the Mercs, providing they [he] gets a clean start.

      2. Yeah, I think Red Bull on the softs will be quite solid in the race too @hahostolze. Looks like they had quite impressive pace on those on friday for a race stint simulation. If Max gets a good start and builds a bit of a gap and the race goes well, that could be enough to do it. Will be interesting to watch I hope.

    4. They are probably worried about clipping.

  2. Yep, lower down force on their rears, and they still needed a tow to make the pole stick.
    Doesnt bode well as quali setup takes precidence over race setup..

    So far we’ve seen Max run out of tires when ever Hamilton put preassure on him. This has been the case for the last 2 races, so i don’t think it will change here.

    Also the race will be all the sweeter if Ham comes from behind to win, than if he starts on pole and finishes the same way.

    Lewis just needs to sit behind the RB and wait, wait for their tires to go off. He might even overtake before they pit.
    The key tomorrow is Hamilton preserving his tires, not flat spotting as the RB did earlier, running long to pit as late as possible unto hards.

    I just hope they start clean, Ham gets away well, Perez doesn’t run into Norris who runs into Ham… or any number of other #shenanagans that might play out. Just keep it clean and run it long..

    #shenanagans : im assuming RB doesn’t get another free stop c/o of a sister driver stopping dangerously on track for some reason.

    1. Please do not prick Cristian’s bubble. He has soft drinks to sell, as he reminded us the last few days.

    2. Didn’t need the tow. He was up on his fastest time with his second run through the first two sectors without any tow.

      1. yeah, i heard that on sky.

        Max pace on his second run was just as good, and then RB asked his to shut off ??? which i found puzzling. Why didnt max try for any even faster time, was he sandbagging, hiding their actual advantage? Was that tow actually counter productive?

        I find this extra bit of information – ominous. What actually is the pace of the RB?
        For that matter, what actually is the pace the Mercs? Hamilton seemed content with 2nd…

        1. Guess he decided to slow down and avoid risks, knowing hamilton could no longer improve.

    3. I hate to burst your bubble, but had Max completed that final lap he would have improved on his fastest lap as he was already up on Lewis in the first two sectors.

  3. Redbull have more downforce than Mercedes so I don’t get the point.

    1. Redbull’s answer to stright liine speed is to run wtih less rear wing, eg less drag.
      Its something they’ve done time and time again, where they believe they can manage the corners on their brakes.

  4. Something many people tend to overlook is that a minimal downforce setup doesn’t really indicate the actual amount of downforce the car still has. Equally – it is quite misleading to think that a smaller wing on two different cars results in the same amount of downforce loss on either. A car could be generating a relatively huge amount of downforce from the floor/diffuser and so the rear wing size may result in a significant reduction for that car but leave it with a net amount higher than rivals. The problem is that such nuance gets lost in the “his car is faster, no it’s not” warfare in the comment sections of most sites I visit. There was a time one could get excellent technical stuff (I remember the days Scarbs and Beamer were contributors here) in many places but that is increasingly rare.

  5. Christian, you should know better than to push the narrative that Max is insane

    1. It was the pole lap that he labeled ‘absolutely insane’, not the driver. I know this is hard to grasp for some, but it is the truth.

      1. lighten up pal

  6. As @Ajaxn pointed out above, I’m not so sure that this is the optimal strategy to win against Hamilton and Mercedes along the race, but, oh boy, I respect the guts of Red Bull. They just go for it!

    1. The issue Hamilton will have is that the Mercedes is still not great when following another car. He’s used his massive straight line advantage to get past Max recently and even then, it hasn’t been simple. If Max can match Lewis down the straights, it’ll be much harder for Lewis to get past.

      I’d say the optimum 1 stop strategy is medium -hard so I wonder if Red Bull will try 2 stops and hope things work out.

      1. 2 stops seems a given for both RBRs. The bit to watch is if Perez can undercut Hamilton and get in his way for some amount of time in the second stint before verstappen runs out of soft tires and falls back.

        Conversely Hamilton has to get away from Perez if he can. I just don’t see bottas getting up front for 5-10 laps and too late to undercut Perez.

  7. Red Bull with Newey’s designs are always capable of this. Just remember Spa 2014 with the tiniest of rear wings, they had the pace to win.

  8. If they can 1 stop then it’s Max’s title, if not then it’s game on.

    Can’t help but feel the SC is going to decide this one way or the other, hope not.

  9. Good grief, Horner fangirling for Max really may turn his poor wife jealous.

    1. Yeah, a strange thing for a teamboss to do, giving his drivers compliments. Nasty.

  10. The good thing we have is that it isn’t just a contest between the drivers, everyone has to play the part. Something tells me the ultimate winner of the race may take both championships…

    Thankfully I have no idea who that will be…

    1. Well, mercedes can easily lose the race and win the constructor’s, red bull needs more than winning the race to take that title.

  11. Good job from RB.

    Hope if Bottas gives help to Hamilton, it will be labeled as teamwork too and not meet with angry comments about Mercedes not respecting its drivers.

  12. Great story of redemption for Jeddah Q3. What twists this season has. And it also shows, if you just looks at the races and the data, that RBR was really back in the saddle after Qatar. That Q3 slip up and the decision to go on the mediums really flattered Mercedes there. And here they really either sandbagged or had the track come to them massively in the cooler weather.

    Either way the car is just as good now as ever and the top drivers are really on par. The best drivers in different but equal cars is kind of the ideal for f1. A complete competition between drivers AND constructors. Just hope we have a clean duel tomorrow so the season ends on a high note for both contenders whoever wins. I can say that whoever wins, for different reasons, it will be a good story. Tbh I’m kind of looking forward to it ending as this has been a bit stressful!

  13. Lower downforce is exactly what helps get a pole while perhaps not as good for tyre wear.

    Of course Verstappen almost always selects to go for the highest downforce of the field. At least that gives them the narrative that they lack straight-line speed (because of mythical rocket engines, flapping wings or whatever fairytale they dream up) and it’s only the engine that costs them laptime while Verstappen is singlehandedly keeping the car down in the corners.

    So maybe this is new territory for him? To see that Verstappen and Perez have a 6km/h higher top speed. So it’s basically just the straights were Verstappen won it. Like Horner keeps saying, everyone can go fast on straights.

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