Red Bull’s Christian Horner has described Max Verstappen’s clash with Lewis Hamilton as “very strange” as the title contenders collided in a dramatic 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
A race-long tussle saw Hamilton initially lead until a pit-stop gamble under the Safety Car allowed Verstappen to claim the lead, which led to a free pit stop under the first of two red flags before Verstappen shoved Hamilton wide on the first standing restart.
Red Bull proceeded to controversially negotiate a minor punishment for Verstappen of a two place grid drop on the second standing restart, following a second red flag after two incidents on the standing restart which left media and fans aghast with horror.
Verstappen and Hamilton swiftly cleared Esteban Ocon who had started the second standing restart from pole, thereby triggering a tense cat and mouse showdown which hit a crescendo on Lap 37 as Hamilton got the lead across the line but Verstappen cut the opening two corners to reclaim his lead.
Red Bull proceeded to instruct Verstappen to “strategically” concede position later that lap but instead of moving over to one side, Verstappen dawdled across the middle of the track causing Hamilton to smash into the rear-end of Dutchman’s Red Bull.
Explaining what had happened from a Team Principal view, Horner placed the blame on Hamilton as he commented that Verstappen was following instructions from Race Control by lifting only for Hamilton to make contact.
Offering his view on what he thought Hamilton was doing, Horner said: “I don’t know if Lewis didn’t want to pass before the DRS zone, but it was very strange to have him drive straight up the back of Max.”
Verstappen consequently got a five second time penalty for that incident followed by a further 10s penalty for causing another collision with Hamilton on Lap 42 with ‘erratic’ braking, although Horner felt that the first penalty was “harsh”.
Horner though praised Verstappen for his performance as he hailed the 24 year-old as a “gladiator” for showing gritty fighting spirit, which leaves the Dutchman sat top heading into the title decider sat top by virtue of one more win than Hamilton.
Sergio Perez’s retirement following a collision with Charles Leclerc also added to Red Bull’s woes as the Austrian constructor now sit 28 points behind Mercedes in the fight for the constructors’ title with one race left this season.
Explaining how Red Bull intended to approach the season finale in Abu Dhabi next weekend, Horner commented: “We have a week to regroup and now it goes down to the wire at Abu Dhabi. It’s a straight-out fight as it has been for the entire year.
“For the fans it is fantastic, it keeps the championship dream alive and we have one shot and it’s time to take it.”
Perez meanwhile felt that he was “slightly unlucky” with the first red flag after slipping to eighth under the Safety Car following his pit stop, although he recovered positions on the first standing restart only to end up being spun by Leclerc.
Explaining how the incident unfolded, Perez said: “We got past Gasly and Charles and as I was coming out of turn three there just wasn’t enough room for everyone, given how the corner was.
“I ended up tangling with Charles, he clipped my rear tyre with his front right tyre. It was a bad moment for everyone but just a very unlucky one.
“It is just a big shame because we needed those points today. I stayed with the car out on track because we were trying to turn the engine back on, we thought we could restart it but it was a bit on the hot side so we had to retire.”