Max Verstappen admits tyre struggle in F1 Spanish GP especially against Lando Norris, as Christian Horner reflects on close battle.

Much like the last few races, Red Bull wasn’t the dominant force in F1 Spanish GP as well. There was constant fear of losing out even though Verstappen stretched out some lead in the front after passing Mercedes’ George Russell for the lead.

There was certain amount of nervousness simply because McLaren and Lando Norris were pushing with seemingly better tyre performance too. Having had the liberty of better degradation in the last few seasons, Red Bull hit with tyre degradation in Spain.

There were constant radio calls to Verstappen in the closing stages to continue pushing ahead, as the Dutchman admitted to tyre not performing to the optimum. “It wasn’t straightforward,” he said. “I mean, at the start, I think it was quite critical to get ahead of Lando,  looking at it now. Of course, at the time, you just tried to do what you think is best and how it works out.

“And then I think also what was very important was getting ahead of George, so that first stint that I could eke out a bit of a gap. And I think that all worked well. Then I think we were quite aggressive on the strategy as a team with our pit stops. So I think as a whole package, performance, we had a good race. We really tried to maximise everything.

“But I do think that we’re struggling a bit for the optimum pace, lacking a bit of tyre deg towards the end of every stint. So it wasn’t a very straightforward, easy race. I mean, Lando was catching quite hard at the end. But luckily, it worked out that it was just enough. From my side, I can only, of course, speak about myself.

“And I think we are, of course, struggling a little bit for that outright pace, it felt like. Plus, I feel like we didn’t have the best tyre life today compared to Lando. It just seemed like he could push a bit more in some corners. Of course, we were a bit upset at one point with the tyres as well, because he went a bit longer in the first stint.

“But yeah, we still optimise everything. I mean, I can’t really say that we did something wrong in the race, but we just need to try and find more performance,” summed up Verstappen, who had drive his skin out. During the weekend, he noted about having to drive at 101% in order to beat his competition.

With the growing competition from McLaren and even Ferrari and Mercedes, Verstappen knows that he will have to be at his best. He concedes that the updates they have at Red Bull hasn’t worked as good as it has for rivals from Woking thus far.

“It’s just fine margins that define the outcome of a weekend,” said Verstappen. “Naturally in the race, of course, you can’t drive like you do in qualifying. But I think the fact is that we would like to be a bit better because I think we did everything well, but it’s tight. We just won again from all the last races that we’ve won.

“So yeah, we just need to look into the details what we can do better. For one year we dominated in Barcelona, because I think in 2022, we were not the quickest. Ferrari was the quickest. And last year, I think we were quite good. But I think Mercedes was actually quite decent at that time of the year.

“So yeah, that’s been good for us, but nothing particularly amazing. So I always knew that it was going to be very close. And McLaren is just doing a really, really good job. They have brought a lot of good updates to their car, and it really just seems to work. And from our side, we have brought things to the car, but probably not as much lap time as what others have been bringing to their car.

“So now it’s up to us to try and find a bit more, try to get that little jump ahead again. Because I think clearly today, we just lacked a bit of that outright pace, but also just when we had to push, we just couldn’t look after the tyres like Lando, for example, could. So these kind of things are quite crucial on most of the tracks where you have a bit of deg. So yeah, we need to try and be better on that,” summed up Verstappen.

Before going into the race in detail, Red Bull chief Horner explained the radio message made to Verstappen in the latter stages to push and why it was needed. “You can see that too, the guys were going flat out and because we get the GPS data as all the teams do of the other cars you can see,” he started.

“We could see Lando wasn’t saving anything in Turn 3 and 9 and the last two turns, so then the information is given to Max to say you can start pushing. And he’s got such capacity in his driving, like he knows the stint length, he knows what he needs to take out of the tyres – and that’s where he really is a masterclass.”

Dwelling into the race, Horner listed out the key moments that helped Verstappen and Red Bull. He expanded the strategy route that they took to keep Norris and McLaren at bay after the Dutchman made the key moves at the start to clear the challenge.

But he concedes that it would have been difficult to beat Norris if he had track position. “There was a few decisive moments,” started Horner. “And obviously, we lost the pole by 0.020s and we knew it was going to be very tight with Lando. So the start was crucial. We took the start on the scrubbed tyre, rather than the new tyre because we wanted to have the new tyre because we thought we might need it for an undercut later in the race.

“Max had a good start, managed to get alongside Lando. Then it was fairly robust racing, where he’s on the grass on the way down to turn one, which then allowed George to pick out his breaking point and go around outside. So job one was passing Lando into Turn 1. And then it was a race that was always going to be dominated about tyre wear.

“So being quick to pass George was crucial. He pushed hard on that first lap or two to get the pass on George – as soon as DRS opened, and then immediately got into managing the tyres and was able to build out a gap, reasonably comfortably in that first stint. And at that point, we decided to go for an optimum race in terms of strategy and our stop laps.

“McLaren, obviously, extended, so they’d go off an optimum on race. So they have an offset. So the gap, you look at the gap and you think, ‘oh, nine seconds looks pretty decent’, but with a tyre offset of six laps, I think, it was on a medium, and then three or four on the soft, those gaps come back at you pretty quickly.

“So it was all about not making any mistakes. And Max drove a perfect race. I think the strategy was spot on, well executed pitstops. So it’s all those small details that we knew that Lando would come back towards us at the end of the race – but we felt we should have just enough at hand, which is the way it played out.

“If Lando would have had track position, it would have been difficult to beat him today. I mean, it was so close between the two of them, there were then what 18 seconds [15] ahead of the rest of the field. So I would say that Lando has emerged from the pack as the most consistent challenger,” summed up Horner.

When directly asked if McLaren was the fastest car, he stated: “McLaren looked fast, you know, certainly at the end of the stints, which is something that we’ve seen at a couple of races now, so their degradation seems to be good. But that’s a little bit offset by the strategy and the overlap in the tyre life.

“So we had enough to get the job done. It was a seventh victory out of 10 races. Four of them have been very hard. But again, the team working at a level where, we’re still delivering the pit stops at 1.7 seconds and strategy, etc. But Max, again, demonstrated why he’s the world champion. That the key key moments he delivers.”

Here’s Max Verstappen after the win:

Here’s Max Verstappen on Lap 1 move

Here’s how F1 Spanish GP panned out

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