When a late safety car resulting from Valtteri Bottas’ stricken Alfa Romeo threw a spanner in the works of Verstappen’s likely second home victory, the Red Bull pit wall made the difficult decision to stop the home hero for a set of new soft tyres in order to allow him to take the fight to the two Mercedes cars.
After giving up track position and allowing the Mercedes’ to occupy P1 and 2, team boss Christian Horner was surprised to see Mercedes pit George Russell from behind his teammate on the following lap, leaving Hamilton to defend from Verstappen on a set of older and harder tyres.
The team’s strategy decision allowed Verstappen to pass Hamilton with ease during the restart and cruise to a second home victory and his fourth win in a row.
Speaking of the strategy call Christian Horner admits his surprise at seeing Russell stop for fresh tyres after Verstappen had conceded the track position.
“You've got your home driver, leading in front of 105,000 people, and you decide to pit him for the soft tyres and concede track position behind two Mercedes,” he said.
“I was quite surprised that [Mercedes] didn't leave George [Russell] out strategically as a rear gunner for Lewis [Hamilton]. When he pitted, it gave a straight fight between Max [Verstappen] and Lewis with a tyre offset.
“By the time they came past us on the pit wall, Max was already alongside, and thereafter, it was a matter of controlling the race.”
The Red Bull boss continued to state the team were worried Verstappen would be a sitting duck had he stayed on his hard tyres with the two Mercedes drivers attacking him, with the team preferring to “go attack than trying to hang on at the front.”
“My biggest concern was it would be two against one," said Horner. "But when George seemed to pit himself, that then freed up a one-on-one fight with Max versus Lewis.”
Verstappen also weighed in on the situation, saying that while he was sure he would not be able to continue on the hard tyres, he put his faith in the strategy team to make the right decision.
“I didn't request it, you have to trust your team as well to make the right calls, and they did,” Verstappen said.
“They boxed me, put the soft tyre on, and then we dropped back but of course George pitted for softs, so we're back into P2.
“Surprisingly we had a really good restart, and then with the extra top speed we have over Mercedes, I could get a run into Turn 1.”