Red Bull initially feared Leclerc more than Norris at Imola

Red Bull thought Max Verstappen had the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix under control and was more likely to be threatened by Charles Leclerc before Lando Norris’ late challenge for victory.

Verstappen led from pole position and pulled out a comfortable lead around the pit stop phase, pulling further away early in the second stint to leave Norris defending from Leclerc for a spell. The McLaren driver was managing his tires, however, and upped his pace in the closing laps to finish just 0.7s behind Verstappen at the flag after a tense chase that fell just short.

“Well Stefano (Domenicali) has been asking us for weeks to try and make it closer at the end!” Horner said. “No, in all seriousness, in the first stint on the medium it felt like we had everything under control, Max was able to build up to an eight-second gap around the pit stop and the car was performing very, very well on the medium.


“Particularly some of the areas we’d been weak on Friday in sector two, he was very much setting the pace. After we changed onto the hard tire, the first half of the stint was absolutely fine. But as the gauge wears down on the tire, temperature becomes crucial and we just started to lose temperature in the tire and with that the performance started to [drop].

“We didn’t get as much out of the tire as Lando, who, at one point looked very much like he was very much under pressure from Leclerc. Suddenly their car turned on and he started to come hard at the end of the race.

“I think the other thing that made it particularly stressful in the last stage of the race was that Max had already had three strikes on track limits. So Max couldn’t afford to make a single mistake on the limit and he delivered brilliantly despite considerable pressure, he was able to manage it and keep Lando just out of the DRS.

“I think for the first 40 laps we were in a really good window and would have managed the gap. After he came out and the gap dropped to six seconds he was able to hold it there. At that point our eyes were on Leclerc, was he going to make the step and pose a challenge? But Lando, whatever window they managed to get their tire into, suddenly their car came alive. It just shows how sensitive these cars are to the different conditions.”

Red Bull had struggled throughout practice but Verstappen was able to take pole and ultimately hold on for victory, and Horner believes the difficulties faced earlier in the weekend led to a lack of knowledge on the hard tire that produced the difference in performance late on.

“It worked out. Probably with hindsight, we would have been better running a hard on Friday, just because we had opted to take two new hard tires into the race and maybe it would have been better to have got the information on the tire.

“But when you look at the turnaround from Friday into Saturday to get the pole and to get the victory, it’s been a phenomenal performance from the team, but also Max has been incredible this weekend. He’s had to work very hard for both the pole and the victory.”

Story originally appeared on Racer