Red Bull principal Christian Horner believes they had a quicker race car than Ferrari at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen finished just behind P3 man Sebastian Vettel and well clear of P5 Charles Leclerc, extending his run of top-four finishes and again competing with the Ferraris on a race day.
The Dutchman was in with a shout of taking Vettel’s podium spot, but a poor restart when the Virtual Safety Car ended and a fear of further issues like the driveshaft problem which ended team-mate Pierre Gasly’s race, caused Red Bull to hold station and take the points.
Horner believes a series of events cost Verstappen from taking the fight to Vettel, but it offers encouragement for the team.
“Our pace compared to Ferrari and Mercedes was strong today,” Horner told Crash.net.
“I think we actually probably had a quicker car than Ferrari today. I think when you look at Pierre, in particular, despite on paper having a horrible weekend where he’s been excluded three times and a DNF, actually his pace has been strong.
“If you look at his pace versus [Charles] Leclerc, in the second half of the stint he was stronger throughout. I think we lost a little bit too much time behind [Sergio] Perez at the beginning which dropped Max off the back of Sebastian [Vettel] and the Mercedes, but at the end of the stint he was quicker, quite a bit quicker.
“So we went a couple of laps longer to give him a better tyre for the second stint, and then for the second stint I think he took ten seconds out of, certainly on Sebastian and closed on the group ahead.
“Then we had the VSC and we struggled a little bit with getting the warm up going again but after the failure that we’ve seen with Pierre we didn’t want to take too much risk.”
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Despite a wretched weekend for Gasly, Horner believes both drivers are showing the progress made by the team and engine supplier Honda – turning previously dreaded tracks for the team into strongholds.
“I think we closed the gap since the beginning of the year,” he explained to Crash.net.
“Then China has been a stronger race, and then again here, even more so. So at a track that, you know doesn’t historically play to our strengths, I think we’re looking forward to heading back to Europe now. A few circuits coming up that hopefully should suit us.
“I think the car’s been performing pretty well in the race [in Azerbaijan],” Horner added. “If you look at the middle sector, we were continually the quickest car through the middle sector of the race here.
“I think we’ve definitely made progress with the car, again it’s all part of a process, but I think the car has been strong in the race again.”