Helmut Marko believes Max Verstappen showed in Las Vegas “how aggressive but fair he can race” and revealed how Red Bull sowed the seeds as early as Thursday for Grand Prix success.
Lining up second on the grid to Charles Leclerc, Verstappen made the better start under the lights and challenged the Ferrari driver into Turn 1.
Verstappen, who had the inside line, forced Leclerc off the track with the Red Bull driver also running wide.
Max Verstappen was ‘on fire’ after his penalty
The stewards hit him with a five-second penalty for forcing another driver off the track.
But rather than hamper Verstappen, Marko says that set him “on fire” with a swap to the hard tyres giving him the pace to fight his way through the field before taking the lead off Leclerc with 13 to go.
“Max had more tyre wear on medium tyres than we had expected. Ferrari was better on that tyre,” Marko told Sky Deutschland.
“We then of course, also received a five-second time penalty and you noticed via the on-board radio that Max was ‘on fire’.
“On the hard tyre, he then showed what was possible, how he can read races nowadays, and how aggressive but fair he can race.”
Although he as initially frustrated for having received the penalty, Verstappen later accepted it was the right call by the stewards.
“At the time, also from adrenaline, I was not happy with the decision,” he said. “But, looking back at it, that was probably the right call.”
‘One of those moments in the race’
Verstappen’s penalty wasn’t the only incident the driver was involved in as he also tangled with George Russell.
That was ruled to be Russell’s fault by the stewards with the Mercedes driver given a five-second time penalty while Verstappen was left running with a broken front wing.
“That was one of those moments in the race and then the stewards just have to make a decision. I’m not going to get too upset about that,” said Marko.
Red Bull made the call when the Safety Car came out for Verstappen’s debris to pit the Dutchman and Sergio Perez for fresh hard tyres, Perez handing the lead over to Leclerc.
The Red Bull teammates hunted him down with Verstappen taking the lead on lap 37, setting himself up for the win, while Perez did manage to get ahead of Leclerc only to be passed on the final lap at Turn 14.
“We took a bit of a risk with this,” Marko explained. “We deliberately did not use those hard tyres in practice, as we wanted to save two sets for the race.
“Fortunately, unlike the previous races, this has now worked well. We went quite fast then. This time both cars were clearly better than Ferrari on the hard tyre.
“Leclerc’s tyres were of course five laps older after that Safety Car phase, although graining started earlier for him than for us.
“Once Max was able to get out of the DRS, he finished the race calmly. At that moment we knew that we would drive home the victory.”
Perez’s 15 points on the night meant the driver secured second place in the standings as he moved 41 points clear of Lewis Hamilton.
Marko was happy to avoid the “blip”.
“After this season we have somehow become immodest,” he added. “We have won many World Championships, but never had a driver in first place and one in second place. We were missing that.
“This season it would have been a blip if we hadn’t achieved it. We are very proud that it has been achieved.”