Christian Horner says Red Bull was “really surprised” by Ferrari’s decision to delay Sebastian Vettel’s final pit stop at the Japanese Grand Prix, which allowed Lewis Hamilton to beat the German to the podium.
Vettel was running third and chasing second-placed Max Verstappen when the Scuderia switched the four-time world champion to a longer middle stint in order to leave him on the softer, faster tyre at the end of race.
The strategy did not pan out though, as Vettel fell behind Hamilton instead. Horner admits Red Bull contemplated making a similar call to Ferrari with Verstappen but eventually ruled against it given the Dutchman’s tyre wear.
“We toyed with that because once you have been undercut, then you have to try something different. So we went longer, but the tyres were dropping off at a point where we didn't think we could get to the end on the soft.
“So it was a question of again going on the hard. But what really surprised us was Sebastian going onto the soft tyre when he was in the position of reasonable strength around Max with 19 laps to go. That surprised us quite a bit.”
Hamilton ended up leading the charge behind Verstappen but the 19-year-old held off the Mercedes driver to secure a strong second-place finish.
Horner says he was pleased to see Red Bull outsmart and outscore Ferrari at a venue where the Scuderia had the upper hand in terms of performance.
“I think pace-wise they were strong, arguably slightly stronger than us. This track you are at full-throttle longer, it's one of the higher engine dependant circuits so I was delighted that we could convert our grid positions into positive points and I think strategically we were stronger as well.
“We made the most of the position we had with Max, he drove a very mature race and we expected, had Ferrari stopped a lap later, for them to be putting Max under pressure at the end of the race. But they chose a different route and in the end assisted Lewis and the pressure came from Lewis rather than Seb.”