Max Verstappen was a “sitting duck” against a charging Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages of the Hungarian Grand Prix, according to Red Bull Formula 1 chief Christian Horner.

Verstappen had suppressed Hamilton’s advances for much of Sunday’s race at the Hungaroring, but an inspired strategy call from Mercedes to switch Hamilton onto a two-stop proved to be a race-winning move, as the Briton overturned a 20s deficit on fresh tyres to pass Verstappen for victory with three laps to go.

The Red Bull driver was on 41-old lap Hard tyres when Hamilton swept past on the run to Turn 1, and Horner conceded Verstappen was ultimately defenceless.

“I think the reality is that in the race they were a little bit quicker than we were,” Horner admitted.

“Max made a good start, was able to get that part of job done and in the first sector of the race they never really challenged us.

“As things settled down, it felt like Max had enough to keep it under control but we could hear that as soon as Lewis was getting close his car was overheating on brakes and issues like that.

“So with the two cars so far ahead of the rest of the field, and the pace they had in the Mercedes, strategically it was the obvious thing to do to roll the dice.

“They had a good pit stop and half way round his outlap he was already neck and neck and by the end of the lap he was ahead, so we didn’t have the ability to cover on the next lap because it would have conceded track position.

“So at that point, your bed is made to get to the end of the race and that meant he started to use the tyre harder than he would have liked and he was able to hold the gap as they passed through traffic.

“But as soon as he got into clear air, that’s when Lewis really started coming and with four laps to go, with such a grip advantage, Max was a little bit of a sitting duck.

“We then had the opportunity to get the fastest lap. But I think today Mercedes probably did have a car that was slightly quicker than ours in race conditions and while we had track position, they had the ability to execute a free stop and that worked out for them.”

Horner said Red Bull would have had it “all to lose” had it copied Mercedes’ strategy and opted to pit Verstappen immediately.

“If we had stopped and they had done the opposite they had what looked like more of a pace advantage, they had six lap fresher tyres and I don’t think we would have caught Lewis at the pace that he caught us,” he explained.

“It’s frustrating there were no other drivers in the mix, because if he had dropped behind a Ferrari or even his teammate, it wouldn’t have been an option open to him. We had a similar scenario with [Daniel] Ricciardo in 2014.”



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