Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner has sympathised with Ferrari for ending up in “no man’s land” when the Safety Car was deployed during the Las Vegas Grand Prix.
Despite relinquishing the lead at the start, polesitter Charles Leclerc capitalised on Red Bull’s struggles with graining on the Medium tyre to repass Max Verstappen on Lap 16.
With Verstappen also forced to serve a five-second penalty for pushing the Ferrari wide at Turn 1 on the first lap, Leclerc looked set for victory when he extended his opening stint by five laps and still emerged ahead.
However, debris from Verstappen’s clash with George Russell at Turn 12 resulted in the Safety Car being deployed, enabling both Red Bulls to pit while Leclerc stayed out.
Although Leclerc regained the place he lost to Sergio Perez with a late lunge on the final lap, both were powerless to prevent Max Verstappen from securing the victory.
Ferrari team boss Frederic Vasseur admitted the side didn’t even contemplate pitting Leclerc under the second Safety Car – a decision which Horner could understand.
Asked if Ferrari could have won if they replicated Red Bull’s strategy by stopping under the Safety Car, Horner said: “It’s very difficult for them to, you know, when you look at them, they’d been on the Hard tyre five laps at that point. To stop again for another new tyre after five laps, you can understand they’re a little bit in no man’s land.
“Whereas we took the strategy call and banked the new tyre, even though for Max, it gave up a couple of positions to the McLaren [Oscar Piastri] and [the Alpine of Esteban Ocon] at the time. But then I think that overlap gave us a competitive edge to Ferrari.”
Along with Verstappen, the neutralisation of the race on Lap 25 aided Perez, who had pitted at the end of the first lap after damaging his front wing at the first turn.
Horner concedes that the earlier stops meant “It was difficult to say how the tyres would have been at the end of a longer stint” without the Safety Car’s intervention.
“But I think we made the right call under the Safety Car despite conceding positions with Max,” Horner continued. “And obviously, Checo just losing one place to Charles, but then quickly he was back in the lead again. It played a part, whether it [the Safety Car] was a decisive part it was difficult to predict.”
Questioned on what Red Bull’s strategy would have been if the race had been run entirely under green flag conditions to the end, Horner answered: “I don’t know, it was a voyage into the unknown. It was: ‘keep going, keep going until you need to stop!’”