Christian Horner says Max Verstappen's victory in the Spanish Grand Prix is 'great for F1' as he justified the faith placed in him by the Red Bull fold to exceed every expectation en route to his sensational win at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Already facing intense scrutiny this weekend having been promoted to Red Bull Racing from Toro Rosso, Verstappen qualified fourth and ran second early on when Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collided on the first lap, before long-time leading team-mate Daniel Ricciardo dropped out of contention after being lumbered with an erroneous strategy.
Lifting Verstappen into the lead on lap 43 of 66, he proceeded to stay calm on his two-stop strategy and resist the attentions of Kimi Raikkonen to reel off one of the most unexpected F1 wins of modern times.
Making him the youngest winner of an F1 race aged just 18 years, Verstappen's success on his Red Bull Racing debut – the team's first win since the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix – would unsurprisingly leave his new team principal Christian Horner stunned.
“It's been an unbelievable weekend and Max's performance from the moment he stepped into the car to the chequered flag was absolutely exemplary, he's not put a wheel wrong,” he said. “He's been quick, measured, mature, he's defended incredibly well against a seasoned pro like Kimi and to score his first grand prix victory now becoming the youngest grand prix victor on his debut for the team is sort of fairy-tale stuff.
Indeed, though Horner feels Ferrari had the quicker car in clear air, Versatappen's ability to maximise the strengths of a car he only drove for the first time two days earlier was critical in keeping Raikkonen behind him to the chequered flag
“We obviously knew we had a chance for a big score today after Nico and Lewis got together at Turn 3 but the Ferraris have had a really competitive car this year and in free practice and it was always going to be tricky to keep them behind us and certainly in clean air they probably did have a slight advantage on us but it is obviously pretty tricky to overtake around here.”
“Max has been able to look after his tyres incredibly well to make sure that he had just enough left to fend off Kimi over the last five or six laps, incredible.”
An immediate justification for Red Bull's decision to swap Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat in its driver line-ups having come into some criticism for doing so, Horner says it was the Dutchman's sheer maturity in an unfamiliar situation that stood out for him.
“I think the biggest aspect of his performance has been his calmness,” he continued. “He's obviously got a lot of capacity when he's driving the car and even, when we are all getting tense with the last five laps to go because the tyres were at the end of their life and he's got Kimi breathing down his neck with the obvious advantages where they have it.
“He just very calmly on the radio and said please could you ask Charlie to deal with the blue flags swiftly and there was no agitation in his voice, there was no panic, there was no tension and it was a young man who was completely in control of what he was doing and that's what he has done from the moment he stepped in the car.
“He did a 27'5 lap time on his first flying lap in the car and really since then he's not put a wheel wrong, all weekend it's been a remarkable performance and I think it's great for Red Bull, it's fantastic that Dietrich Mateschitz was here to see a big result for the team after a first win since Spa in 2014.
“I think it's also great for Formula One to have a new young winner as well and a really exciting grand prix today.”