Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had admitted that he “definitely didn’t expect this result” after finishing second in 2021 Russian Grand Prix following late drama.
Verstappen had started the race from 20th and last on the grid after taking a fourth power unit but was able to work his way up to fifth when he made his first start to switch from hard to medium tyres, which left him seventh in the order after pushing his medium tyres too hard early on in the stint.
A heavy rain shower however drenched the circuit in the closing eight laps which caused chaos as drivers lost grip but a timely stop for fresh intermediates on Lap 49 saw Verstappen storm through to finish second after McLaren left race leader – Lando Norris out for too long.
Reflecting post-race on his unexpected podium after starting at the back of the grid, Verstappen said: “To finish where we did with the penalty we had, we didn’t lose as many points as we could have so as a Team we did a really good job.”
Explaining the decision to make the switch to intermediates when he did, the 23 year-old said: “It was a crucial call to change to the inters, it was really slippery on track and we made a great decision with the timing and took the right lap to pit.”
Summing up his thoughts on the reality that “a lot of things can happen when you’re starting from the back of the grid”, Verstappen admitted that he was happy to keep out of trouble and run a clean opening stint with excellent strategy management.
Verstappen though revealed that he felt the race was difficult overall, adding: ” The race itself was not very easy, it was difficult to pass other cars and once you got stuck it was easy to damage your tyres but luckily in the end the rain helped us make the last jump in positions.”
Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate, Sergio Perez also started on the same strategy after qualifying ninth prior to being bumped up to eighth on the grid by Valtteri Bottas’ grid penalty, yet finished ninth after a late strategical error in not making an early stop for intermediates as heavy rain drenched the circuit.
Perez however gambled on staying out on slicks in the late shower which backfired as he pitted two laps after his teammate, with the Mexican commenting that he felt that track conditions in first and third sectors were “pretty dry” and hoped that conditions would of “dried up” to swing the race his way again.
Perez went on to admit that “the timing of the rain in the race meant some people got lucky today and others didn’t.”
Prior to the rainfall, Perez was on course for a third-placed finish on “pure merit” despite making a slow first stop and felt that the late drama was “frustrating” despite making huge gains in progress within the car ahead of the Turkish GP in a fortnight’s time.
“any driver could “very easily come out looking like a hero or zero.”
Red Bull Team Principal, Christian Horner was delighted with Verstappen’s comeback drive despite acknowledging that the “tricky weather conditions” meant that any driver could “very easily come out looking like a hero or zero.”
Given the contrast in conditions across all sectors, Horner decided that the decision on whether to stop for intermediate tyres or not was left down to both drivers with Verstappen getting his timing “right” in how he “nailed the call to come in and benefitted massively as a result”.
Perez’s hesitation meanwhile cost him “significantly” according to Horner but admitted that the Mexican wasn’t the only one trying “to brace it out being so close to the end of the race,” despite the top three all eventually having to pit.