Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says Max Verstappen’s start to the Hungarian Grand Prix was “the first time I’ve seen him being cautious” in the early seconds of a Formula 1 race.
Verstappen won the race at the Hungaroring despite starting only 10th on the grid, which is the lowest starting position he has won from in his grand prix career.
While you might usually expect a driver winning from the fifth row to be more attacking at the start, Verstappen’s approach to the first lap was conservative.
“I think it’s right up there,” said Horner when asked where this victory stands among Verstappen’s 28 F1 wins.
“The start, you saw him, it’s the first time I’ve seen him being cautious.
“He got himself a little bit pinched in the middle of the pack there, but thereafter his pace, the way he managed the issues that he had was phenomenal.”
Verstappen had an adequate launch, and started to gain ground on Daniel Ricciardo’s McLaren, which started ninth and was on the left side of the track, and Valtteri Bottas’s Alfa Romeo, which started eighth and was on the right.
He started to head between the two, but opted to lift in sixth gear to avoid the risk of getting sandwiched by them. This allowed team-mate Sergio Perez, on his far left, to get ahead.
Verstappen did clear Bottas as they braked for Turn 1 and emerged from the first corner in 10th place.
However, Ricciardo had to check up when Fernando Alonso’s Alpine pulled across him at the exit of the corner. This led to Kevin Magnussen, who was on the outside of Verstappen, checking up and jinking right – forcing Verstappen to do the same.
That left Verstappen in ninth place, which became eighth by the chicane after passing compliant team-mate Perez.
By lap seven, Verstappen was up to sixth having passed the Alpines and could therefore go about chasing down the leaders.
The early laps laid the foundations for Verstappen to build his race on, but it might have been very different had Red Bull not made a late change of plan.
“We were going to start the race on the hard tyre,” said Horner. “Because statistically, that looked like our best race.
“But the drivers were struggling to generate temperature in the soft tyre on the way to the grid, so it felt ludicrous to be starting the race on a hard tyre, particularly with some weather around.
“So we converted both drivers on the grid to the soft tyre, which committed us very much to a two stop. But we made it work today, and it played out beautifully.”
Verstappen headed into the race confident of the car’s pace, but with the knowledge that the team’s analysis of the anticipated race meant a fifth or sixth place was most likely.
But he stressed the need to stay calm and mentioned that when the first lap got a little busy and potentially dangerous in terms of the threat to his race, he was deliberately conservative.
“We said to each other that we have to remain calm before the race, and I think we did that,” said Verstappen.
“And we made all the right calls in the race.
“It was a bit hectic for me in the first lap, getting a bit boxed in and staying out of trouble.”