Red Bull driver Max Verstappen got the best possible start to Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix when he pounced on Lewis Hamilton going into the first corner of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and forced the Mercedes wide.
Verstappen duly took the lead for the opening 23 laps of the race until he made a pit stop to exchange his initial set of soft compound tyres for mediums, which he hoped would see him through to the finish of the race.
But Hamilton stayed out five laps longer before pitting, and then made the surprise move of coming in for a second time on lap 43 after Mercedes decided it wouldn’t be possible to reach the end of the race on that set of tyres.
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It left Verstappen on the horns of a dilemma: make a second stop of his own and immediately lose the lead to Hamilton, or try and hold on and hope that Hamilton had fallen too far behind as a result of his second stop.
The Dutch driver admitted that he’d seen the writing on the wall early on.
“In a way I could see it coming,” he told former F1 driver turned Sky Sports pundit Jenson Button in parc ferme after the race.
“Already at the end with the softs he was faster. And then when we were put on the mediums he clearly had a lot more pace, he could just stay within one second.
“There was not much we could have done,” he continued. “They went for another stop and then I knew it was over. I was already struggling with the tyres and you could see every lap he was getting closer and closer.
“I was just a sitting duck,” he admitted. “We were just clearly lacking pace. Nevertheless, I tried everything I could.”
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Overall, verstappen felt that Mercedes had simply brought the faster car to Barcelona, which has long been a Mercedes stronghold when it comes to pole positions and race wins.
“We are not where we want to be,” Verstappen stated when asked about thr Red Bull’s current level of performance.
“We still have to push hard and catch up, because at the moment we are a little bit slower. But compared to last year it’s been a big jump for us.”
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