Christian Horner has defended Red Bull’s Spanish Grand Prix team orders, disclosing how it “just didn’t make sense” to take risks for “no point” with an intra-team battle for the lead.

Perez was issued team orders in the latter stages of the race, demanding him not to hold up teammate Max Verstappen in their fight at the front of the field. The Mexican succumbed to the order, but angrily demanded to speak to the team post-race about the reasoning behind giving up a race that he says he “would have won”.

The pair went on to secure a commanding 1-2 finish, in Verstappen’s favour, after the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc retired when on course for victory. An animatedly frustrated Verstappen had been struggling with an intermittent DRS issue which prevented him from moving through the order as quickly as he would have wanted, after sliding into the gravel at Turn 4 and losing places.

The unexpectedly chaotic nature of this year’s Grand Prix in Barcelona up at the front of the order meant it was a race where you needed to take advantage of your rivals’ misfortune – something Red Bull certainly achieved in the wake of Ferrari’s disappointing showing. Leclerc’s teammate and home hero Carlos Sainz also slid into the Turn 4 gravel early on and failed to capitalise when on-track rivals Leclerc, Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton suffered their own setbacks.

The formerly dwindling Mercedes team’s Spanish GP upgrades seemed to have improved the balance of their car, reducing the chronic porpoising issue and enabling them to show some of their true potential. This allowed George Russell to flex his muscles in defence of a DRS-less Verstappen for several laps, and Hamilton to pull off a remarkable comeback drive.

Eventually, the two Red Bulls came across each other in the closing laps of the race but on different strategies – with Verstappen completing his three stops earlier on than Perez, who would make his third stop to take the fastest lap point. Perez was quickly instructed to let Verstappen through rather than fighting the reigning champion for the win.

Congratulated on his third podium of the season, and his first in Spain, Perez reflected on the “great team result” which had resulted in him losing an almost certain victory. “It was great,” he said. “My first podium here in Spain. They obviously have their two very good drivers, Spanish drivers, but I can say that I’m probably the third one in terms of support here because every year it’s been amazing.

“And to be on the podium for the first time, it’s nice, and great team result as well. We took our opportunities and very pleased with that. On the first stint, when I let Max by, I was told that I was going to get [the position] back. And we knew we were on different strategies. So when I was back on it, I felt like I could have gone through and probably given a better shot at my strategy, to make it work. But at the end of the day, it turned out to be the three-stop the way to go,” summed up Perez.

When asked when he thinks his third career victory will come, Perez made it clear that he “would have won” in Spain had he been on Verstappen’s strategy and had the team given the position back to him after the first stint. He does however explain that his strategy would never have worked against his teammate, unless he’d passed cars quicker.

“Well, I think what was clear was that the three-stop was a better race, race time, and the various strategies, so I think if I went in that direction I would have won the race. And it worked out for Max,” Perez notes. “I think that was something we discussed. It was good, because we didn’t know at the time which strategy was going to be the best one.

“I only felt that in the first stint when I gave the position to Max, that I was told that I was going to get it back and when I was on the two-stop I felt that I could have gone through Max and George a bit earlier to try and make the strategy work, but probably it wouldn’t have been enough.

But it is still a great team result, the season is still very young and, yeah, I think the momentum in the team is great. So we just have to discuss a few things internally but there’s nothing that I’m concerned of. If anything, I can say that the atmosphere in the team, the momentum we’re carrying, it is tremendous, like no other team, so I’m pleased with that,” summed up Perez.

Team principal Horner defends the team’s call to switch their drivers around, suggesting that the reliability-induced retirements of other cars in the unseasonably high Barcelona temperatures meant Red Bull had to take the cautious approach.

“I think the problem we had was we could see that other cars had temperatures raging, water, oil, brakes, and the last thing you want to risk is a DNF when you’ve got two cars potentially to have a 1-2,” Horner explained. “They were on different strategies so it wasn’t a straight fight, Max had such a tyre advantage and of course Checo’s tyres wouldn’t have made it to the end so that is why he pitted towards the end of the race to get that valuable fastest lap [point] as well.”

Horner was also asked whether he and his team want to put on a race for the fans, instead of utilising team orders to ensure Verstappen passed without delay, and explained that there was “no point” in taking any risks.

“Absolutely, but our responsibility is to bring the two cars home with as many points as we can and of course what Checo couldn’t see at the time which he could see perfectly well now is that he had such a long stint to do on the medium tyre,” Horner describes. “Max had such a tyre advantage from a team perspective there is just no point in taking that risk with an intermittent DRS, with temperatures raging up and down so it was absolutely the right thing to do.

“The DRS was working intermittently against George. I think from a team point of view the offset was so big between the two, Max at that stage had a tyre delta of about two seconds per lap quicker, it just didn’t make sense to let them fight it out.”

He confirmed that Perez’s “heat of the moment” frustration would be discussed in the briefing after the race and that the Mexican understood the situation even upon getting out of the car. “I think it is very easy, even tonight, seeing him just after the race he gets it,” Horner says.

“There is such a bigger picture, as I said the temperatures were raging and beyond all the limits that we’ve ever seen and in this unseasonably hot weather. We will discuss it and he will see the race plot. He will see that he had close to 30 laps to do on those tyres which in the end we needed to pit to make sure we covered Russell. In the heat of the moment you can understand it, if he wasn’t pushing those types of things he isn’t doing his job.”

Here’s Ferrari and Red Bull duo on their problems