Christian Horner grilled after suspicions of Max Verstappen favouritism at Dutch GP

Jamie Woodhouse
Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen hug after a 1-2 result. Belgium July 2023

Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen hug after a 1-2 result for Red Bull. Belgium July 2023

Christian Horner allayed any fears that Red Bull had intentionally undercut Sergio Perez with Max Verstappen at the Dutch Grand Prix, explaining that Verstappen’s out-lap pace even caught the team by surprise.

A downpour at the start of the Dutch Grand Prix triggered very early key strategy calls across the grid, Perez moving into the lead after being the first to take a punt on switching to intermediate tyres.

Verstappen then though got the jump on Perez when it came to the switch back to slicks, Perez stopping a lap later and losing the lead to Verstappen, who had been obliterating the deficit to his team-mate on the inters.

Christian Horner reveals thinking behind key Red Bull strategy calls

Speaking to Sky F1 about that frantic flurry of action, Horner said: “It was tricky because when you’re the first car, [it is] very hard to make that call.

“Checo pulled the trigger, made a great call, got in, the team reacted super fast, we got him back out. We then got Max in immediately, others we were surprised to see stay out.

“And then of course Max started coming through the field so quickly, Checo at the front had pulled a good gap as well and was focused on trying to get a pit stop over the cars behind.

“So that was pivotal in that first part of getting the calls right.”

Perez though was left without the position to show for that sharp decision making after the Verstappen undercut, sparking some speculation that Red Bull got the result they desired as Verstappen got back ahead of his team-mate, going on to score a record-equalling ninth win in a row.

Horner though explained that the team had not manufactured this position swap, with Verstappen on his out-lap going far quicker than they had expected.

“Well, there were a couple of reasons behind making that decision,” Horner stated.

“One was that we’d obviously had Alonso taking the slicks as well, and I think it was Gasly behind him, and the pace of the undercut, if we’d have pitted Checo first and Max the second lap, we had the risk of coming out after that had shaken down as being first and fourth.

“The risk was for Checo because Max was catching at I think seven seconds in three laps. His out-lap was so extreme it took us slightly by surprise that Max jumped Checo.

“So just so much happening in very, very variable conditions.” recommends

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Sergio Perez “desperately unlucky” with time penalty

Perez had another roll of the dice later in the race as the rain returned, this time even heavier than before, Perez going from slicks to inters to wets before the race was red flagged, though when it resumed, news came through of a five-second penalty for Perez for speeding in the pit lane.

It turned out he has aquaplaned on his way into the pits and whacked the wall, Horner saying his driver was “surfing as opposed to speeding” as he was forced to settle for P4 once the penalty was applied.

Horner said: “He made a great first call to get in early, he was one of the first to get on to the inters, the next call he made, he made at the pit entrance, so of course the team weren’t ready for it, but it was reacting to the weather and we were still able to turn it around.

“He was just desperately unlucky because it looks like he got the fine for speeding in the pit lane when he came into the pits before the red flag, and he’s hit the pit wall up there which is why the repairs were taking place on his car and hence the pickup of the five-second penalty.

“He was probably actually surfing at that point as opposed to speeding, but very harsh for him and he deserves very much to be on the podium today.”

It means Verstappen has further extended his Drivers’ Championship lead over Perez which now stands at 138 points.

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