Red Bull put Max Verstappen on a set of medium tyres for Brazil’s sprint race in order to save an extra set of softs for Sunday’s grand prix, says Christian Horner.
Verstappen lined up P2 on the sprint race grid, the reigning World Champion one of only two drivers on the medium tyres with the other being Williams’ Nicholas Latifi.
The rest of the grid, including pole-sitter Kevin Magnussen and the Mercedes team-mates, were on the soft Pirellis.
Verstappen wasn’t able to challenge the Haas driver off the line, in fact taking a handful of laps before overtaking him to lead.
But complete domination of this season’s sprint races was not to be, Verstappen overtaken by George Russell before also losing out to Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton.
Horner concedes the soft tyres would have been the better option, but says Red Bull wanted to keep an extra set available for the grand prix.
“I think the soft tyre would’ve been a better tyre for us but the advantage is that we take that extra set into Sunday’s race,” the team boss told Sky Sports F1.
“So we gave it up strategically and hopefully we’ll get it back on Sunday.
“I’d rather have won the race and have two new sets of softs, but it sets up a really fascinating grand prix.
“Mercedes are going to be quick and drive a tactical race. It’s two Red Bulls against two Mercedes and Ferrari, you can’t rule them out either.”
He also says Verstappen suffered with more tyre degradation than expected in the sprint.
“We thought that the softs were limited in range,” he said.
“We took the decision to start on the mediums. If they could survive the first 12 laps, the second half of the race would become a bit more comfortable.
“Having survived the first half of the race, we actually ended up on a worse degradation than the softs.”
Verstappen admits he’s concerned the degradation issues will carry through into Sunday’s grand prix.
The reigning World Champion will line up P3 on the grid behind Russell and Hamilton with his team-mate Sergio Perez P4.
“At the time I felt alright [about the tyre choice]. It somehow didn’t work but even on a soft I think I was going to be too slow,” said Verstappen.
“Really, we just had way too much degradation here today.
“We will analyse it, I am not sure if we can do a lot for tomorrow, but it can’t be worse than today.
“At the end of the day, when you have so much more degradation than another team, it doesn’t matter what tyre you are on.
“I think we just need to try and improve that first and normally the tyre should work.”