Max Verstappen kept up the pressure at the top of the 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship with a typically assured drive to finish second. In an exciting race, Verstappen exchanged superb overtaking manoeuvres with Lewis Hamilton from the restart after a second-lap collision between the two Alfa Romeos triggered a safety car.
However, the key battle was with Valtteri Bottas and the decisive moment came after the Finn pitted on Lap 36. Although he was able to emerge in front of Verstappen, a slide at Turn 3 was followed by a pass at Turn 5 and the Dutchman never looked back.
After pitting at the end for soft tyres, Verstappen was again left shaking his head after his fastest lap time was deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 14; the same scenario that denied him pole position during qualifying.
Red Bull Racing Honda team-mate Sergio Pérez will be happy with a solid drive to fourth, showing good pace to finish 11 seconds clear of the McLaren of Lando Norris, despite losing a place to the British driver early in the race.
Something about this track really does not suit our car and I think in general this was a bit of an off weekend in terms of grip and overall pace. We knew last year that we weren’t particularly strong here, so this year has been a bit better and we managed to finish ahead of one Mercedes, but it wasn’t quite good enough to get them both. Nevertheless, second is still a pretty good result and we always knew this season would be up and down in terms of the tracks we were strong at and the ones Mercedes were.
The race today was pretty decent though and we were all constantly pushing which was nice. I tried to put the pressure on Valtteri in the beginning as he was struggling for grip, but clearly, Lewis behind had more pace and he made it past us both. I was then able to undercut Valtteri in the pit stop but you could clearly see on the hard tyres we were just a bit slower, some laps we could match Lewis and others it was just not possible. Towards the end of the race, Valtteri was even coming back at me which showed their pace today. It’s a shame the fastest lap got taken away, stupid track limits [laughs], they should just put the gravel back! It is what it is, we always try and I had the gap so we went for it.
We scored good points here but I’m looking forward to Barcelona, a track that has more normal grip levels and where I have good memories. I think we will also see a clearer picture of how teams have been progressing. It’s a long season ahead so a lot can happen.
Today was a busy race on my side! Lando managed to get past me at Turn 4 but I thought he had all four wheels off the track so I didn’t defend thinking he’d have to give the place back due to track limits but that wasn’t the case. It was a misjudgment on my side and a mistake but being stuck behind Lando compromised our race and cost us a lot of time. When I got past him my pace was good, but I think the damage had already been done.
Afterwards, we tried to do something different with strategy by going long in the hope of a Safety Car but it didn’t work out and fourth was the maximum we could do. We are definitely making good progress with the car and the race pace, I am understanding it more and more with the extra kilometres I am driving. Of course, there are still areas I need to get on top of and improve but it’s just a process and we’ll continue working hard for next week in Barcelona. It’s been very close again with Mercedes all weekend and I think this will be the case for the entire season. Some weekends they will be faster and others we will be so we just have to make sure we keep our heads down and continue working hard.
Looking at today we can see that this championship is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. It’s so tight and it’s going to be all about marginal gains. Max drove the wheels off the car again today, snatching second from Mercedes and it’s super tight between him and Lewis. With Max, it was frustrating to lose the point for the fastest lap at the end of the race due to track limits which I think we agree need to be consistent throughout the race weekend.
Similarly, with Sergio, he lost out to a case of track limits when he was overtaken by the McLaren but once he got back past, his race pace was good so he is definitely getting there and the races are coming together for him. In clean air his pace was matching that of the leaders so I’m pleased with the progress he is making. On the whole, second and fourth place means plenty of points and there’s only eight separating Max and Lewis in the championship.
Barcelona next week will be the benchmark and we’ll get our heads down until then when hopefully we get a clearer picture of the strengths and weaknesses of all the cars”