Track limits have dominated F1 discussions early in 2021, and Red Bull principal Christian Horner thinks his team have bore the brunt.
Round three of the campaign at Portimao proved to be the latest instalment of controversial track limit calls that have cost Red Bull dearly.
Back at the season opener in Bahrain, Verstappen was told to give the lead back to Lewis Hamilton after leaving the track to overtake him, a decision which ultimately would see Hamilton maintain P1 and begin 2021 with victory.
Then at Portimao, Verstappen was stripped of his fastest lap in Q3 which would have been good enough for pole, track limits again to blame, before also losing the fastest lap of the race and bonus point for going too wide at Turn 14.
That was on a Sunday afternoon where Sergio Perez in the other Red Bull was passed early on by McLaren’s Lando Norris, a place he was expecting the Briton to return since he had left the track to complete it.
There was no action from the stewards though, and by the time Perez had made the overtake Verstappen, Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were too far up the road to catch.
And so, Red Bull have been left feeling pretty hard done by.
“The whole track limit debate is just frustrating; it’s been brutal for us across the first three events, the win in Bahrain, pole yesterday and now fastest lap. So it’s been pretty expensive for us,” Horner is quoted by the Formula 1 website.
Nonetheless, Red Bull remain very much in title contention alongside Mercedes, a battle which will be defined by fine margins and a need for Red Bull to be “perfect” in Horner’s eyes.
“I think we need to be perfect, but there are strengths and weaknesses to the cars,” he said.
“Let’s not forget Lewis dropped the ball in a pretty big way at Imola and got away with it quite lightly, so it’s inevitable when you’re pushing at the limit. It’s all about those fine margins.”
Red Bull will now go hunting for their first victory at the Spanish Grand Prix since 2016 when a certain Max Verstappen won on his debut with the team. But, Barcelona very much has been Mercedes turf in recent years.
Horner said though that the pecking order is now starting to settle down, and so it is clear that Mercedes and Red Bull, more specifically Verstappen and Hamilton, go into the race as the “standouts”.
“Barcelona, if it’s normal conditions, there’s so much data from that circuit, and it’s a combination of medium, low and high-speed corners,” he explained.
“The picture is starting to clarify. Red Bull and Mercedes are the two standout teams, and Lewis and Max are the two standout drivers.
“I think we’re starting to get a picture of our strengths and weaknesses, but I always said it would take four races.
“I think we’ve got a pretty abnormal surface and extreme wind and cool conditions here [at Portimao]. If we get a pretty standard Barcelona I think you’ll get the four races and we can see where our strengths and weaknesses are. But what we can see is it’s incredibly tight.
“The biggest winner for that is Formula 1 – and if it goes like this for 23 races, it’s going to be nip and tuck.”