Max Verstappen conceded he was going to be beaten by Lewis Hamilton in Spain, saying he could “see it coming” late in the race.
The Dutchman had leapfrogged polesitter Hamilton with a bold move at the start to take the lead in Barcelona. The pair then streaked away from the rest of the field and were having a race-long battle for P1, but the reigning Constructors’ Champions would catch the Red Bull team by surprise.
Mercedes’ strategy team led by James Vowles made a sudden switch to a two-stop strategy for the Briton on lap 42 as the Silver Arrows took a risk on an alternate approach to the race.
Rather than pitting the following lap to cover Hamilton, Verstappen and Red Bull opted to stay out and, while the World Champion had a 23-second deficit to overcome, he was able to close the gap on fresher rubber and pass his title rival six laps from the end, to earn his 98th victory in Formula 1.
The 23-year-old was pragmatic after the race, however, with direct comparisons already being made to the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2019, where Verstappen was also chased down and passed by Hamilton as the Mercedes driver ran an alternate strategy.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a strategic masterclass from Mercedes. #F1 pic.twitter.com/Y0scaJB6ZZ
— Planet F1 (@Planet_F1) May 9, 2021
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“In a way I could see it coming,” Verstappen told Jenson Button after the race. “Already at the end with the softs he was faster, and then when we were put on the mediums he clearly had a lot more pace, he could just stay within one second.
“There was not much we could have done. They went for another stop and then I knew it was over because I was already struggling with the tyres and you could see every lap he was getting closer and closer. I was just a sitting duck.
“We were just clearly lacking pace. Nevertheless, I tried everything I could.”
Verstappen also believes that Mercedes had the quicker car over the course of the weekend overall, with the Dutchman saying the team still have to work hard and improve this season.
“We are not where we want to be,” he added. “We still have to push hard and catch up because at the moment we are a little bit slower, but compared to last year, it’s been a big jump for us.”
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