Christian Horner didn’t believe a race win was on the cards until Ferrari pitted for Charles Leclerc for a set of hard tyres.
With a difficult Qualifying putting both drivers on the fifth and sixth rows, Red Bull had a mountain to climb if they wanted to win in Hungary for the first time in seven years.
But even with the threat of rain, Max Verstappen overcame a tricky start, clutch issues and even a spin at Turn 13 to win from tenth on the grid, with Sergio Perez finishing fifth after passing Charles Leclerc in the latter stages of the race.
The victory surprised Horner as he revealed to the media that the team’s simulations predicted that if everything went smoothly, they could finish fifth or sixth. However, Horner also said that Leclerc’s stop for hards was the moment which made him believe that victory was possible.
“At this circuit, our pre-race analysis was showing that if everything went right, fifth or sixth might be achievable, so to win from tenth on the grid is beyond all our expectations and when you throw in a clutch issue early in the race, which Max was handling as the temperatures were getting out of control, so that was why we held him off the back of Carlos Sainz for a while and particularly after the first stop. But thereafter, once we released him and got the clutch issue under control, he had tremendous pace and strategically, we got all the calls right when I saw a set of hard tyres come out Ferrari; I thought ok, we might be actually in with a chance of winning this race.”
“Checo played the team game; he was on a different strategy at that point; it was important for him to release Max to get quickly on the back of Charles, and then obviously, he got the pass done at the end of the lap. There was going to be a question of getting these tyres to the end a quick 360 down in Turn 13 just to warm up the tyres dropped him back behind Charles, but the pace that he had was significant; we knew the offset between the mediums and the hards was half a second so thereafter it was a matter of managing the rest of the race out with rain potentially around and so on. A phenomenal performance.”
Verstappen’s seventh win of the season and the 28th of his career was lauded by Horner as one of his best. However, the Brit was also quick to praise the work of the team’s strategists, who swapped Verstappen and Perez over to the soft tyres on the grid when it seemed that the hard tyres would struggle in the cooler conditions.
“I think it’s right up there. At the start, you saw him being a bit cautious, and he got himself a little bit pinched in the middle of the pack but thereafter, his pace and the issues he had it was phenomenal. We were going to start the race on the hard tyre because statistically, that looked like our best race, but the drivers were struggling to generate temperature in the soft tyre on the way to the ground, and so it felt ludicrous to be starting the race on the hard tyre particularly with some (overcast) weather round, so we converted both drivers on the grid to the soft tyres which committed us very much to a two-stop, but we made it work today.”
Before the race, Perez and Verstappen changed to their third power units after the team noticed a component had broken on the Dutchman’s car and, as a precaution, put a fresh PU in the Mexican’s car.
The change proved to be a wise one as Horner revealed that without the third power unit, Verstappen’s car would have broken on the way to the grid.
“Well, we changed the power units because there was a component that broke in Max’s car yesterday, and thankfully sitting here now with 20-20 hindsight, grateful it did break because another 12km, it would have broken on the way to the grid. So we elected to change the whole power unit rather than repair it in the field, and as a precaution, we changed Checo.”
Heading into the summer break, Verstappen leads Leclerc by a mammoth 80 points in the drivers’ championship, while Red Bull lead Ferrari by 97 points in the constructors’ championship.
But despite leading both championships by a considerable margin, Horner scoffed at claims that both championships were over, arguing that there was still a lot of racing left to be done.
“The points tables look healthy, and it’s a great way to sign off into the summer break, but there is still a lot of racing to go. Ferrari are quick, and Mercedes are coming back into the game; theirs still a long way to go in this championship, plus the sprint race, so we don’t take anything for granted.”