Christian Horner has defended pitting Max Verstappen from the lead just second before a safety car neutralized the race and promoted teammate Sergio Perez into first place and an eventual victory.
Verstappen had been leading the race on lap 10 when Nyck de Vries struck the apex barrier at Turn 5 and broke his front-left suspension, forcing him to park his car halfway onto the Turn 6 run-off area.
Red Bull Racing called Verstappen into the pits that same lap – he was exiting Turn 14 at the time of the crash, and as he dived into the pit entry, the incident was still covered by localized yellow flags.
Neither Perez, who was a close second at the time, not the more distant Charles Leclerc followed him into pit lane, and barely seconds after he rejoined the track, race control triggered a safety car to collect De Vries’s stranded AlphaTauri.
Perez and Leclerc took advantage of the reduced pace to make their stops at the end of lap 11, with both jumping erstwhile leader Verstappen.
“The problem was we didn’t have the visibility of De Vries; it was a quick shot of him and just a black set of lines,” Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner said. “It looked like he’d outbraked himself.
“All four wheels were on the car, he hadn’t hit the barrier and the engine was running.
“It looked like he’d select reverse and carry on. We never expected that to go to a safety car.
“Usually if you see a car in the barrier, it’s a safety car, but there was no sign of it having hit the barrier. It was only subsequently I think on the replays that you were able to see a track rod was broken.
“Obviously with 20/20 vision we’d have just done one more lap and gone from there.”
Horner said Verstappen was roughly in his ideal stop window anyway, particularly given the title leader was dealing with worse degradation than expected on the medium tire.
“We decided to pit Max because he was starting to struggle a little bit with the rears on his car, and Checo was obviously right up behind him,” he said. “So we decided from a strategy point of view it was the optimum time to take the stop.
“It was one of those things that sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t.”
Despite the turn good fortune, Pérez appeared to have the pace to win the race on merit, having closed to within DRS range of Verstappen before the safety car intervened and looking untroubled keeping his teammate at bay in the 38 laps after the resumption.
Horner was keen to emphasise that the Mexican, now just six points behind Verstappen in the title standings, had earnt the victory.
“Checo is definitely living up to his nickname of king of the streets,” he said. “He got a little bit lucky with the timing of the safety car, but having got the lead, he built close to a four-second lead at one point and controlled the race.
“He then had to get on and deliver. You’ve got Max Verstappen behind you, he’s not taking it easy.
“He used his opportunity and converted it into a great win.
“They were pushing each other hard … but we let them push all the way through. That was always the plan going into the race.
“And all credit to Checo, drove a great race today.”