Going for a long final stint at the United States GP, Christian Horner thought Max Verstappen would get caught at the end as his first set of hard tyres were “down to the canvas”.
Arriving at one of Lewis Hamilton’s favourite circuits, a track where the Mercedes driver had five wins, Verstappen and Red Bull knew they’d be up against it at the Circuit of The Americas.
The Dutchman pulled off the first surprise of the weekend as he ended Mercedes’ pole position run at COTA but it seemed to come to naught when, on the opening lap, he lost the lead to Hamilton.
Running P2, Red Bull opted to go aggressive with the Dutchman’s strategy, pitting him before Hamilton in both his first and second stop, the second coming a lot sooner when many thought was ideal.
Stopping eight laps before Hamilton, it came down to the final three laps with the Brit getting ever closer to the Red Bull driver. Verstappen took the win by a mere 1.333s.
“I really didn’t think he was going to pull that off,” Horner told Sky Sports F1.
“Lewis, with eight lap newer tyres, and the first set of hards that came off, we were pretty much down to the canvas. And then thinking, well, we’re not going to have much left at the end here.
“But I think really, [key was] the way he managed that tyre through the last stint to make sure he had enough for the last five or six laps.”
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He added: “With Lewis, you know the end of the race he’s going to be so strong. He’s gone long, he’s bought himself an advantage.
“To lose a race like that in the last two or three laps, we lost one to [Mercedes] in Montreal, and that really hurt. So to lose one here would have been really painful.
“Max just held on, he did a great job. He drove a great race, really smartly, and had just enough at the end there.”
Horner admits it was an important win for Verstappen and Red Bull, the driver extending his lead in the standings to 12 points.
“This is a big one because it has been such a stronghold of Lewis and Mercedes,” he said.
“To get the pole was a landmark moment for us yesterday, and then to convert it into a win even though we weren’t leading at the end of the first lap.
“So it was a great team performance because on Friday in first practice we were on the back foot and it looked like it would be a tough weekend, but the whole team worked very hard to turn it around.”