Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has revealed that he is “happy” with second place after enduring a “difficult” 2021 Qatar Grand Prix weekend.
Verstappen initially topped FP1 but struggled throughout FP2 and FP3 as he found himself third quickest but recovered to qualify second, before a five-place grid penalty for double-waved yellow flag infringement dropped him to seventh.
A bright start saw Verstappen improve to fourth in the first sector of the opening lap but found himself reporting on team radio that he was “stuck” behind Pierre Gasly, who eventually ran wide at end of Lap Three which enabled Verstappen to pass him at the start of the next lap for third.
Verstappen quickly passed Fernando Alonso a lap later before settling into second as he struggled to match Hamilton’s pace, despite trading fastest lap times as both driver opted for a two-stop strategy in light of a puncture for Valtteri Bottas.
Further punctures for George Russell and Nicholas Latifi followed with the latter causing a Virtual Safety Car just three laps from the checkered flag, which encouraged Verstappen to make a third pit-stop for softs and he went on to claim the point for fastest lap.
Reflecting on the weekend as a whole, Verstappen said: “This weekend has been quite difficult for us as a Team and we are still lacking pace, I tried everything I could after the five-place grid penalty so to finish in second and score the fastest lap is really good.”
Verstappen though described his start as “exciting” and “really important” in terms of securing second and limiting the cut into his title lead to only eight points with two races left of this season.
Red Bull also reduced their deficit to Mercedes in the constructors’ fight down to five points as Sergio Perez finished fourth, which Verstappen commented as being “a shame” whilst also adding that he was “happy” for Fernando Alonso who pipped Perez to third by nearly three seconds.
Perez though had started 11th and slowly but surely progressed through the field to find himself third after Bottas’ puncture, yet was placed on a two-stopper which the Mexican acknowledged “didn’t work out” as he missed out on a podium finish to Alonso by almost three seconds.
Admitting that his poor qualifying left him with everything to do in the race, Perez confessed that he felt the 57 laps to be “exhausting” because he was “flat out the whole time, overtaking and pushing” whilst changing strategy mid-race to maximise Red Bull’s chances of the constructors’ title.
On his late fruitless chase down of Alonso, Perez revealed that he is unsure if he “would have definitely caught up with Fernando, but we would have been close”, yet is pleased “to minimise the damage from” Qualifying.
Perez added that he had “the longer-term picture” in mind of helping the team score points but has vowed “to keep pushing hard and improve our performance in the next two races.”
Red Bull Team Principal, Christian Horner meanwhile was full of praise for a “stunning” and “sensational” Verstappen in how he recovered from seventh to finish second with “competitive” straight-line speed and the point for fastest lap.
Horner also echoed Perez’s thoughts on the Mexican’s chase of Alonso but believed that he would of been all over the Spaniard on the final lap if the Virtual Safety Car hadn’t of been deployed, yet feels that it was “nice” to see Alonso back on a F1 podium again after seven years.
Red Bull also now sit five points behind Mercedes in the constructors’ title fight but Horner believes that Saudi Arabian and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix are now “very big”, as he vows to “work hard” on improving the car ready for the final races.
Having found himself in hot waters with stewards over unsavoury comments about marshals for which he was reprimanded, Horner issued an apology.
“I’d like to make it clear that marshals do a wonderful job and our sport could not operate without them volunteering their time, so if any offence was caused I unreservedly apologise, my frustration was with the decision that had been made and not with any individual.” said Horner in his apology to marshals.