Red Bull boss Christian Horner praised Max Verstappen’s rampage to pole in Bahrain while carrying damage on his RB16B.
The Dutchman went into the first qualifying of 2021 off the back of topping every free practice session, and while he and Sir Lewis Hamilton were neck-and-neck for most of qualifying, in the end Verstappen took pole for the Bahrain Grand Prix by nearly four tenths of a second.
That ended Mercedes’ run of taking pole at the season-opening race which stretched back to 2014.
“You never really know where you are, that’s the first test of the year when the fuel comes out, the engine modes go up and you see where you are,” Horner told Sky Sports F1 after qualifying.
“You can see it’s nip and tuck, the middle session it looked like Mercedes had got the advantage on the mediums, Max came back at the end there on the softs, and Lewis I think maybe was slightly under the limit on his last lap.
“It’s fantastic for us, that’s out first pole [at the season-opening race] since 2013 and Honda’s I think for 30 years.”
During Q1 Verstappen picked up some damage over the kerb at turns 2 and 3, which Horner said cost his driver around a tenth of a second.
So that made his pole even more remarkable.
“Yeah he smacked the bottom of the car pretty hard, because they run so low we lost a couple of bits of carbon under the front of the car there,” Horner explained.
“And if he is carrying about a tenth’s worth of damage through the session, you think when it’s in Q1 and not that pressing ‘oh no, don’t pick up that damage’.
“But he handled that incredibly well. He definitely felt that, he’s obviously sitting on it as he is hurdling over the kerbs, so he responded very well.”
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The long runs in practice had Verstappen and Hamilton very evenly matched, so Horner is expecting a fierce battle in Sunday’s race.
He was also keen to praise Mercedes, who Horner said had been “written off” heading into the Bahrain Grand Prix.
“It’s going to be very very tight, and I think the whole team has worked tremendously hard over the winter to get ourselves into this position,” he said.
“Honda have done a stellar job as well.
“Mercedes, look at how they’ve turned up. Everyone was writing them off over the last couple of weeks, and they’re right there, and they’re going to be right there in the race again tomorrow.
“They’re going to be a massive challenge for us to beat, but hopefully we are starting from the best possible place.”