BARCELONA, Spain – Max Verstappen put up a valiant fight Sunday during the Aramco Spanish Grand Prix, but ended up as the bridesmaid despite leading more than half the race at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
The Red Bull driver got the better of eventual winner Lewis Hamilton on the initial start of the 66-lap race Sunday, leading until his first pit stop on lap 24, but when Hamilton made a second pit stop for fresher tires near the two-thirds mark of the race it placed Verstappen into an impossible bind.
Unable to pit for tires of his own without losing the lead, Verstappen was forced to stay out until Hamilton finally chased him down from 22 seconds back.
Hamilton made the winning pass with seven laps left, with Verstappen eventually pitting for a free set of tires and stealing away the bonus point for setting the fastest lap of the race from the Mercedes team.
Verstappen circled a race-speed deficit to Red Bull’s Mercedes rivals as part of the reason behind his defeat Sunday.
“I tried everything I could today, and even took the lead at turn one but from there, we were just lacking a bit of pace to Mercedes. We wanted to win, but I cannot feel too disappointed, as I did everything I could out there and maximized the opportunities we had,” Verstappen said. “Even if we had looked at another strategy and done a two stopper by pitting before them, we wouldn’t have made the time up as they were just faster than us. I know how fast I can go and where the limit of the car is, and when they can do a free stop behind, it is easy for them to run a different strategy.”
It was a similar strategy to the one that Mercedes employed against Red Bull during the 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix that allowed the seven-time defending team champions to prevail again on Sunday.
“I pretty much knew that when he pitted for the second time that he would come back at me on the new tires, a bit like Hungary [in] 2019, and although I did everything I could I was a bit of a sitting duck,” said Verstappen. “The pace difference on the tires made it an easy pass for Lewis … but I was able to at least keep second place and take [the bonus point for] fastest lap.
“It was just a day where we lacked a bit of pace and second was the best result possible, so now we need to look at why they seem to have jumped ahead a bit in terms of race pace.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner agreed with Verstappen’s assessment, also feeling that his team got all they could have out of the circumstances they were dealt in the Spanish Grand Prix.
“We couldn’t have done anything differently today; Lewis and Mercedes were quicker than we were and able to follow Max so closely without hurting their tires,” Horner explained. “We were able to hold track position, but when the field opened up to the degree it did behind us, Lewis gained a free pit stop which left us in the horrible position as race leaders of trying to brave it out to the end instead of sacrificing track position. Once Lewis caught up and got past, all we could do with Max was go for the fastest lap, which he achieved.
“It’s full focus on Monaco now and continuing work back at the factory to find more performance and catch up to Mercedes.”
The Formula One season will continue May 23 with the 78th running of the Monaco Grand Prix, a race that Verstappen is seeking his first win in and Red Bull hasn’t won since 2018 with Daniel Ricciardo.