Max Verstappen admitted that he had backed off in the closing laps of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday night at Jeddah Corniche Circuit - and he's not happy about it.
While his team mate Sergio Perez started the race from pole position, Verstappen was stuck in 15th place on the grid after suffering a driveshaft failure at the start of the second round of qualifying.
Verstappen had hoped that the RB19's superior pace would let him quickly carve his way back tot he front but it proved harder than expected when he got held up in a DRS train of slower cars.
"It wasn't very easy to get through the field," he acknowledged in the post-race interviews held in parc ferme.
"As the beginning of the race it was very difficult, a lot of sliding around. But once I cleared them one by one, we got into a good rhythm."
The fortunate timing of a safety car for Lance Stroll's retirement on lap 18 also played a key role, and after the restart he was quickly able to overtake Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso to move up to second place.
"We got a little lucky with the timing on the safety car which enabled Max to jump both the Ferraris and that worked out well for him," Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky Sports F1.
However by now Perez had a five second advantage, and although he initially tried to cut the gap in the end he decided it wasn't worth the risk to the team's hopes of a second consecutive 1-2 triumph of 2023.
"I was in second, we had a big gap behind, and so at one point we decided to just let's say call it a day and just settle for second," Verstappen admitted.
"Of course, in general, the whole feeling in the team, everyone is happy, but personally I'm not happy," he continued.
"I'm not here to be second, especially when you are working very hard, also back at the factory, to make sure that you arrive here in a good state and basically making sure that everything is spot on."
That was a reference to the reliability issues that cropped up this weekend for the team. As well as Verstappen's driveshaft failure, Perez also had some gremlins on Saturday. And both drivers reported glitches in the race.
"Then you have to do a recovery race, which I like. I don't mind doing it, but when you're fighting for a championship - and especially when it looks like it's just between two cars - we have to make sure that the two cars are reliable."
Horner said that he had not enjoyed the prospect of a wheel-to-wheel battle between his drivers in the closing lap.
“Max is a racer, he’s going to push,” he said. “Coming from 15th on the grid to second at a street circuit, that’s pretty unusual.
“Those guys were going absolutely flat out until we thought we had an issue with Max,” he noted. “Then we looked at all the data, checked the data, it was fine and then they were flat-out hard at it again.
"Obviously, my heart was in my mouth at that point, because I was envisaging, within three laps, having two drivers going out it hammer and tongs, but it didn’t materialise.
"Sergio stepped up to the challenge after that safety car," he added. “Checo got the gap and was able to manage it and his pace today was fantastic.”
Verstappen did make a point of going for the bonus point for setting the fastest lap of the race which means he remains in the lead of the drivers championship albeit by that solitary point.
"It was a good recovery. I gave it [setting the fastest lap] a go at the end, and luckily it worked out," he said. "And of course I'm very happy to be on the podium."