Red Bull team boss Christian Horner believes that the appearance of the safety car midway through the Singapore Grand Prix masked the true level of competition between his team and championship leader Mercedes at Marina Bay.

Amused by the irony of his two cars now exhibiting better reliability than the two Silver Arrows, Horner insisted that race leader Lewis Hamilton was no longer able to put a massive gap between himself and four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel prior to the safety car coming out to cover the clean up of debris - and was only able to pull away afterwards because of the differing strategic decisions the two teams opted for.

"The gap to the Mercedes was skewed after the pace car because of the way the strategies panned out," he said, content that Red Bull had established itself as the closest challenger to Mercedes after annexing row two of the grid in qualifying, "In the first stint, Sebastian was able to go reasonably with Lewis. I think Lewis pulled out seven seconds up to the first stop, something like that, and then it wasn't like they were pulling a second a lap on us. So, certainly, we were close - they still have an advantage, but it was a lot closer than in some previous races.

"Seb thought it was really on the cusp [to get to the end on his tyres] and, when you've set a target, he's then managing his pace to try to reach that target. [But], if you look at our pre-season, then [the performance] demonstrates the quality of the team we have. It's a great achievement by the whole team to have turned it around, but the performance gap that's missing we're very keen to close down."

The race boiled down to a strategic battle when Red Bull opted to fit both its drivers with the harder of the two Pirelli tyres at their second stop. With Hamilton being given another set of the supersoft rubber, he was obliged to stop again to conform to the regulations, and had to put in a series of near-qualifying pace laps in order to build a sufficient gap to his pursuers once the safety car withdrew.

In the end, the Briton pulled enough to return to the track in second place, but made short work of passing Vettel, who hardly put up a fight as the Mercedes closed in. The two Red Bulls continued to run to the flag, stretching their tyres to almost 40 laps, and held off Fernando Alonso, who made a third stop for softs behind the safety car, in the process.

"The first stop went well, the double stop from the guys was impressive [but] Fernando looked quicker in the second stint," Horner reflected, "Seb was starting to get into a bit of tyre 'deg' and we could have covered Fernando, but then we'd have put ourselves under a lot of pressure in the latter part of the race. Effectively, we conceded the undercut to Fernando and then did something different.

"He went on to the soft tyre and we thought 'okay, we'll go on to the hard with both guys - and then the safety car went out....'. It seemed to be out for quite a long time for just a bit of debris. We expected we'd have to use a good set of soft tyres at the end of the race but, as the race went on, the guys did a great job of managing the tyres and then we said 'okay, we'll roll the dice and try to get to the end of the race'."

Despite admitting that Alonso's potential had probably been more hampered by the timing of the safety car - 'because they ended up behind us on a tyre that was only three and five laps younger' - Horner also confirmed that Daniel Ricciardo had been fortunate to claim the final step of the podium after battling a problem all race.

"He had an [issue] on the run down to turn one after the start, and then the problem started relatively early, probably before half distance, where we had basically the battery not discharging," he revealed, "That starts all kinds of clipping, so there was quite a lot of management that needed to go on to help him with that."

Asked whether he thought Red Bull - and Ricciardo on an individual level - could keep a title bid alive, Horner admitted that anything was still possible.

"Due to their shocking reliability, hopefully we can keep ourselves in the championship, but it levels itself out over a year," he noted, "We're going to have to take an engine [penalty] with Sebastian at some stage. They're probably not."



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