Max Verstappen caused the first upset of the 2020 Formula 1 season as Red Bull finally ended Mercedes’ streak of dominance with a remarkable victory in the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix. 

Mercedes were threatening to run away with the 2020 season after recording four comfortable wins at the start of the delayed campaign, with some even suggesting the German’s manufacturer’s early dominance could see it go unbeaten this year.

After three podiums on the bounce in which challenging Mercedes was never really on the cards, Red Bull turned the tables on the reigning world champion squad at the second of two races held at Silverstone

With Red Bull recognising it was no real threat for Mercedes over one lap in qualifying, it instead opted to focus on the race and gambled on an alternative strategy by being the only leading team to run the Hard compound in Q2. 

Starting fourth on the grid, Verstappen crucially jumped Nico Hulkenberg’s Racing Point at Turn 1 to find himself running behind the leading Mercedes duo. 

It quickly transpired that Verstappen’s RB16 was kinder on its tyres than the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, with polesitter Bottas warned by his team that his front left tyre was in “critical” condition after just six laps of racing. 

Tyres were the major talking point of last weekend’s British Grand Prix after three cars - including both Mercedes - suffered front-left failures in the closing stages of the race.

Pirelli stuck with its decision to move a step softer for the second round at Silverstone but mandated increased pressures as a countermeasure to avoid another repeat of the dramatic blow-outs. 

That decision ultimately turned Sunday’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix into an intriguing and pulsating strategic affair, with most teams forced into a minimum two-stop strategy. 

With Mercedes struggling more than Red Bull and its drivers reporting blistering on the softer Medium compound, Verstappen began to quickly reel in the leading all-black W11s. 

It was at this point Red Bull advised their man to drop back and look after his own tyres amid concerns they would be damaged running in the dirty air produced by the cars ahead. 

Verstappen sharply responded over his team radio: "This the only chance of being close to the Mercedes, I'm not just sitting behind like a grandma,” and he kept the pressure on. 

The Dutchman found himself in the lead when Bottas and Hamilton stopped within a lap of each other on Laps 13 and 14, while Verstappen continued on before making his first pit stop on Lap 26. 

With the Mercedes still struggling, Verstappen emerged from the pitlane just behind Bottas despite a sluggish stop from his Red Bull crew, and swept past the Finn in a matter of seconds with a sweet overtake around the outside at Luffield. 

Six laps later Verstappen pitted again to switch back onto the Hard tyres, while Bottas was also brought in to replicate Red Bull’s strategy. At this stage Verstappen was well in command.

Hamilton ran longer into his second stint and displayed some scintillating pace as he charged past Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari and Bottas late on, but he was too far behind Verstappen to mount a challenge for a second successive home win. 

Verstappen went on to take a controlled first win of the season, marking Red Bull’s first triumph at Silverstone in eight years. 

"I didn't see it coming," Verstappen admitted after the race. “But after the first stint we seemed really good on tyres and we didn't have many tyres issues at all. 

“It is a great result to win here and I am incredibly happy. We have not had an opportunity to push them so far this season. We need to use soft tyres - that seems to suit our car.” 

Red Bull’s gamble to try something different ultimately paid off handsomely, while the specific conditions on race day resulted in the team being genuinely faster than the Mercedes for the first time this year.

Heading into next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona - where temperatures are forecast to reach highs of 30 degrees Celsius - Red Bull will be licking its lips at the prospect of potentially being able to pull off a repeat.

"Our best bet to take on the Mercedes was to do something different and by starting on the Hard tyre, that was a crucial factor,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner explained. “We were surprised that we were the only team to have a crack at that yesterday in Q2. 

“But definitely our pace compared to Mercedes was stronger than last week and conditions were slightly different, pressures were slightly different, so a lot of data for us to understand because we had a very dominant car today. 

“Max has got a great feeling for these tyres and we’ve seen on numerous occasions he’s been able to manage these tyres incredibly well,” he added. 

“We knew that Mercedes would pit because they were on that softer compound to begin with, so we wanted to make sure we could make hay while the sun was shining and have tyres left. 

“He was very confident that he was really protecting those tyres through the high-speed corners and was well-placed for when they did pit and he was absolutely right and he managed that incredibly well. 

“Likewise on the Medium tyres and again at the end of the race when he had pace in hand just in case Lewis started to really come back at him really aggressively on the harder tyre.” 

Verstappen’s ninth career victory has moved him up to second place in the drivers’ championship, leapfrogging Bottas, to sit 30 points behind Hamilton after the opening five races.

 

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