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Clever tyre management key to win – Verstappen

01 Jul 2018

Unexpected. That’s how Max Verstappen described his Austrian Grand Prix victory. The Red Bull driver admitted he didn’t have the car to win on outright pace, but managed his tyres to absolute perfection to seize the opportunity when Mercedes gifted it to him on a platter…

Verstappen did not have the best of starts to the season. But despite many calling for him to changing his approach, the Dutchman refused. And now it’s paying him back.

Victory in Austria was his first of the year, his third successive podium and his fourth in five races. Suddenly, he’s only three points behind Red Bull team mate Daniel Ricciardo in the drivers’ standings.

Red Bull may not have had the quickest car at the Red Bull Ring, but they finally clinched victory on home soil. Verstappen was aided by Mercedes' misfortune, as both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas retired, but the key - along with an aggressive early pass on Kimi Raikkonen - was the way he managed the tyres.

As his rivals struggled in the warmer than expected conditions, with the likes of his team mate Ricciardo and Hamilton forced to pit because of blistering tyres, Verstappen appeared to have no such problems and was able to manage his beautifully to make a one-stop work.

“It was amazing,” said Verstappen. “It was very hard to manage the tyres as well. We really had to look after them – there was a lot of blistering. We managed to hang on until the end.

“The tyres are very sensitive and it can happen in the first five laps, if you’re too aggressive, the tyre starts to open up and the damage is done. From previous experience in practice sessions, I know it can happen.

“I tried to manage, I could see my tyres opening up. I just had to drive around the issue. Luckily I could manage it until the end of the race.”

Red Bull looked to be third-best in terms of race pace based on the long-run data gathered on Friday, but the warmer weather brought them into the mix come race day and their good reactions with regards strategy were crucial.

While Mercedes chose not to pit Hamilton, who was leading, when the virtual safety car kicked in to clear Bottas' stricken car, Ferrari and Red Bull reacted – and that opened up Verstappen’s path to victory.

“It was a bit unexpected, especially after our Friday pace and in the long runs,” said Verstappen. “In the first stint, we could keep up well. I tried to do my own race, then saw Valtteri disappearing with a problem.

“We made the right call when virtual safety car came out and we pitted. I was in the lead, I tried to do my own pace.”

Kimi Raikkonen, who finished second, started to catch Verstappen in the closing stages, but the Dutchman suggested he didn’t feel any pressure.

“It was difficult to tell because Kimi was catching, Sebastian was catching,” said Verstappen. “Maybe they still had half a second in hand. With three laps to go, I was comfortable it wasn’t going to happen. But still, the blister could open up and you’re really in trouble. My fourth victory, it’s a good one.”

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner described Verstappen’s drive as “unbelievable” and praised the way he dealt with the warmer conditions and the impact that had on the tyres.

“It [the weather] wasn’t predicted coming into the race,” said Horner. “It’s hot today. The load in these last two right corners, it’s massive.

“The amount of energy that these tyres have to take up round there. That’s where Max was really good today, backed off through those two right-handers and made up his time in other parts of the circuit.

“He is constantly asking for information, managing those tyres. And that’s why they didn’t blister up. A very, very mature drive by him.”

That was Verstappen’s fourth career victory, tying him with Eddie Irvine and Bruce McLaren for the most wins by any driver without ever taking pole position.