Christian Horner says Red Bull are happy to come away with Max Verstappen’s second place behind Lewis Hamilton from the Portuguese GP because they “knew” the Portimao weekend would suit Mercedes.
Red Bull, looking to end Mercedes’ seven-year F1 title dominance, appeared to start the season with a faster car through the opening two 2021 rounds, but were pegged back in Portugal as the world champions secured pole position and, aided by a Hamilton overtake on Verstappen, the race win.
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Mercedes also extended their early title lead over Red Bull in the constructors’ and drivers’ standings.
But, speaking to Sky Sports F1 after the race, Red Bull boss Horner insisted the difference between the two cars at Portimao was “very, very marginal” and that “we knew this would be a track that favours Mercedes”.
“To come out of here with second place, we’ll definitely take that,” added Horner. “I think Max is driving the wheels off the car and it’s super tight between them.
“We’re race three, we’re eight points behind in the drivers… it’s nothing. This championship is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint.
“To push them and split them here the way that we have, I think it’s really encouraging. I think next week [at the Spanish GP] will be another litmus test.”
Mercedes are 18 points clear of Red Bull in the team standings – which they have led since way back in early 2018. On Sunday, Valtteri Bottas, Verstappen and Hamilton were evenly-matched through the opening stint – before a double overtake from Hamilton enabled him to move clear of his rivals.
But Verstappen was never far behind before a late pit-stop for an attempted fastest lap.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said the team have a real “buzz” as the close battle with Red Bull continues.
“This is just such a great gang to work with in Brixworth and in Brackley, they just keep pushing,” Wolff told Sky F1. “Even when we were behind in winter testing in Bahrain, it’s a buzz that we have not felt in the team since 2013 when we had that first sniff that we could be there.
“The whole place is excited and continues to be excited and I’d like to be happy after the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi.”
Wolff also praised Hamilton for an “absolutely stunning drive” in Portugal but stressed: “You could hear in his voice how much he was pushing so it was never a situation where he could let go, because the gaps were just too short.”
The team boss did, however, sympathise with Bottas after the pole-sitter missed the chance of attacking Verstappen for second after an engine sensor fault towards the end of the race.
“These three have been in a class of their own and he probably would have had a shot at Max if we hadn’t let him down with the power unit,” added Wolff.
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