Christian Horner believes Mercedes were thinking more about Max Verstappen than Lando Norris in the closing stages of the Russian Grand Prix.
The race at Sochi became a straight fight for victory between Norris and Lewis Hamilton once the planned pit stops had been completed, with the McLaren driver holding a clear lead until being closed down by the seven-time World Champion.
Once he had got into the dirty air, Hamilton found it difficult to get into a challenging position against his fellow Briton. But a rain shower opened the door wide open to his 100th career F1 triumph as he stopped for intermediate tyres at the right time, whereas Norris stayed out on slicks for too long and struggled to keep control of his car.
However, Horner, the Red Bull team principal, does not hold the opinion that Mercedes were purely focused on trying to wrest the win away from Norris.
He thinks it was more a case of mirroring what Red Bull did with Hamilton’s rival for the World Championship, Verstappen, who had worked his way through the field from the back of the grid where he had started due to an engine penalty.
Unlike Norris, Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez, who were all caught out badly by the changing conditions, Verstappen benefited from good timing by Red Bull for his late pit stop and ended up finishing second, which meant he trails Hamilton by only two points in the Drivers’ standings.
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“Max said early on he wanted to change to the intermediates,” said Horner on Servus TV, quoted by Speedweek.
“Pérez, on the other hand, wanted to stay out. There was a lot of uncertainty. Sergio said it would stay with the drizzle.
“Lewis decided to change tyres. He wanted to focus his race on Max, not Lando.”
Mercedes have admitted Verstappen was in their minds when they were finalising strategy as the rain came down – and that Red Bull’s decision had helped to convince Hamilton that stopping for intermediates was the right call.
“We called Lewis in because we wanted to let him know Max had stopped too,” Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ trackside engineering director, told reporters. “He wasn’t in the lead and therefore the decision was easier.
“Once he understood this, Lewis wanted to do the same, even if it meant leaving the victory to Norris.”
Mercedes win but concerning signs at Sochi
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