The Red Bull Formula 1 team split Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen’s Spanish Grand Prix strategies because it saw Sebastian Vettel as its main victory threat, according to Christian Horner.
Ricciardo led the opening 28 laps but lost position when the team chose a three-stop strategy to cover Vettel while his teammate Verstappen did two, which turned out to be the better tactic.
After finishing fourth, Ricciardo questioned the handling of his strategy questioned the handling of his strategy but team principal Horner insisted it was done to counter the Ferrari challenge.
“The Ferraris have had a very competitive car this year and in free practice,” said Horner. “It was always going to be tricky to keep them behind us.
“In clear air, they had a slight car advantage on us but it’s tricky to overtake ’round here. That’s why we opted to split strategies, because it wasn’t obvious going through the second phase or after the first stop which was going to be the quicker route, the three-stop or the two-stop.
“We felt that Sebastian in clear air looked to be the fastest car on the circuit at the time so it was a question of, ‘How are we going to beat Vettel?’ Splitting our strategies from a team perspective gave us both options.
“It wasn’t transparently clear. We knew the two-stop would be under a lot of pressure at the end of the race in terms of degradation.”
Pirelli said ahead of the race that a three-stopper was theoretically quicker, but given how difficult it is to pass at Barcelona, it expected most to do two stops.
Horner defended Red Bull’s decision, saying the team chose to cover Vettel with the car it felt had the best chance to win, which in this case was Ricciardo as he was ahead.
“The obvious way they were going to try and navigate their way past us was through a three-stop,” added Horner. “We had to take a tactical decision at that point to say do we try and cover Sebastian with one of our cars? Therefore, the best car we believe had a chance to win the race was the leader and it looked like Ferrari made that choice at the same time.
“Ferrari then went early on their last stint to try and get Sebastian track position and we pitted five or six laps later with Daniel which gave him a better tire but Sebastian didn’t seem to be able to catch the leading pair as quickly as we thought.
“Had Daniel managed to get past Sebastian a little earlier, he obviously had a big pace advantage on the first two cars. We felt Vettel as the biggest opponent, we would take him on with Ricciardo.”