Red Bull boss Christian Horner says the decision to put Daniel Ricciardo on a three-stop strategy during the Spanish Grand Prix was made for tactical reasons as they tried to work out the best way to beat Ferrari and win the race.
In the end the two-stop strategy employed by team-mate Max Verstappen and Ferraris Kimi Raikkonen proved best, with the former coming through to claim a historic first win in his very first race with Red Bull. Ricciardo admitted post-race he was somewhat 'bitter'
to have lost a potential win due to an incorrect strategy call, but Horner explained that at the time they made the decision they genuinely didn't know which was the best way to go.
“We elected to split the strategies because it wasn't obvious after the first stop which was going to be the quicker route, the three stop or the two stop,” Horner confirmed. “We felt that Sebastian in clear air looked to be the fastest car on circuit at the time and that was the question, how are we going to beat Vettel and we felt by splitting our strategies from a team perspective gave us both options because it wasn't transparently clear.”
Quizzed further on the rationale, he added: “We felt that once Sebastian had passed Carlos Sainz [in the early stages of the race] and was running in clean air, you could see that his pace was strong, stronger than ours and the obvious way that they were going to navigate themselves past us was through a three stop so we had to take a tactical decision at that point to say do we try and cover Vettel with one of our cars, therefore the best car which we believed had the best chance of winning the race, which was the lead car [Ricciardo], and we elected to go for the three stop and it looks like Ferrari made that same choice at that point in time.
“Ferrari then went very, very early on their last stint to try and get Sebastian track position and obviously we pitted I think five or six laps later with Daniel which gave him a much a better tyre but Sebastian didn't seem to be able to catch the leading cars as quickly as we thought and he seemed to be in trouble in that last stint, so I think had Daniel managed to get past Sebastian a little earlier, he obviously had a big pace advantage on the two leading cars so it's one of those things.
“It's very easy to sit here with hindsight but at that point in the race it was far from obvious which was the quicker route to go and we felt, Vettel as the biggest opponent, we would take him on with Ricciardo.”
Ricciardo eventually had to settle for fourth, unable to pass Vettel and then suffering a puncture on the penultimate lap, which left him more than 30secs off the final podium spot.
“I'm not sure what caused the puncture, probably a bit of debris,” Horner added. “He was having a look on different parts of the circuit [to try and get passed Vettel], it looked like he picked up a left rear puncture somewhere down on the run down to Turn 1.
"It's a shame because it was just starting to get quite exciting between him and Sebastian and for sure he was gearing up to have a proper go at him.”