Max Verstappen was strolling on P2 during the Emilia Romagna GP hosted at Imola, before a pretty spectacular blowout of his right-rear tire at Variante Villeneuve that caused him to spin and subsequently not finish the race with only 12 laps till chequered flag. 8 laps before he managed to get from P3 to P2, after passing Valtteri Bottas.
The boss of Red Bull Racing Christian Horner explained after the race that the team suspects the blowout was caused by debris on track, due to the “instant nature” of the failure.
As he said during an interview: “We think that he's hit some kind of debris or something, because he was on the radio to his race engineer at the time and boom, the tyre suddenly went. So it suggested something that has just caused a totally instantaneous puncture, and that was the result of it. Very, very frustrating, particularly after he managed to pass Valtteri, and it felt like today we had pretty decent pace. Annoying not to get that P2 today.”
Verstappen presented a decent pace during the Emilia Romagna GP. Initially 3rd on the grid, he managed to get second during the opening stint after passing Lewis Hamilton, was the first of the front to pit which allowed the team to put pressure on then race leader Bottas. Bottas was the first Mercedes driver to pit with the team keeping Hamilton longer on track, that eventually allowed the Brit to jump in front of both Verstappen and Bottas once he pitted. Horner admitted it was impossible for them to cover both of these strategies used by Mercedes, because they only had one car fighting in the from.
As he said after the race: “You're in a strategy sandwich at that point. If you go for the undercut, they can go longer with the tail car, and you can't cover both options. You have got to pick the one that you want to try and beat. We actually picked to try and beat Lewis, because we felt that Valtteri on new tyres would also have the pace after after a stop, but his pace wasn't great. He was making a lot of mistakes, and that allowed Lewis to close into within a pitstop window, then they didn't take it. Then they got to traffic, and then the VSC came out and he had a free stop.”
Horner also praised the young Dutch driver for putting Bottas under pressure that eventually resulted in the overtake for P2. Since lap two of the race Bottas was struggling to match the pace of Hamilton, after picking up the debris from Vettel’s Ferrari that damaged the floor. As he said: “We were aware of the damage that Valtteri was was managing, and that obviously gave Lewis a pace advantage as well. That made it even more important for Max to put him under pressure, get a mistake, which he got. I was just talking to him, and he said Valtteri basically gave him a little brake test, which is fair play, in that corner where he made the mistake and nearly went up the back of him. But he was patient enough to come onto the straight, and then use the DRS and pass him into into turn two. At that point, things were looking good.”
Even though Verstappen did not finish the race, he continues to put pressure on the Mercedes drivers. Also, Verstappen has been on the podium in 2020 every race that he was able to finish.
Although the constructors championship has been already decided with Mercedes earning their title, and Lewis will get his 7th title by the end of this season, Verstappen is so far the only one that could challenge the Brit on track.