Horner: It was a race of two halves

Horner: It was a race of two halves

Horner: It was a race of two halves

Christian Horner, Red Bull’s Team Principal, reflected on his team’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, describing it as a race of two halves.

Verstappen may have won the race at Imola on Sunday, but it was far from being the dominant performance we have got used to seeing from Red Bull and the Dutchman recently, as they had to deal with McLaren and Lando Norris in particular breathing down their necks.

While the reigning Formula 1 Champion led from pole and opened up a reasonable gap to Norris, the second part of the race, when the #1 RB20 was put on Hard tyres, saw the #4 McLaren steadily closing the gap to the leading car.

Those final laps of the Emilia Romagna GP were quite intense as Norris chased down Verstappen, the latter just managing to hold on to his lead and taking the chequered flag just 0.725s ahead of his rival.

It was an impressive feat from Verstappen as he was warned by the stewards for exceeding track limits, one more infringement meaning a five-second penalty, not the sort of thing you would like to have on your mind while trying to defend from a driver like Norris in an on-form McLaren.

Speaking to Sky Sports F1, Horner admitted the pressure on his star driver, he said: “Massive pressure. Because Max had three strikes on track limits, he couldn’t afford to put a millimetre wrong with all that pressure. A great job by Max.

“Lando was coming hard at the end of the race. It was a race of two halves for us. The first half of the race was very strong, we got a 7.5-second lead. The second half of that last stint, Lando started to catch us very quickly.”

Quizzed why Verstappen struggled in the final stint, the Briton explained: “We perhaps put too much focus on the Medium. We built up a big lead then halfway through the Hard stint, we started to lose the temperature in the Hard.

“I think McLaren worked it a bit harder and they saw the benefit of that in the second half of that stint,” he predicted.

For the second race in a row, Red Bull have struggled, after McLaren brought a raft of upgrades to their MCL38 in Miami one race earlier won by Norris, and now Ferrari have also upgraded their SF-24,

“You can see the cars are converging. The latest upgrades, they are all becoming very similar,” Horner pointed out. “The Ferrari as well is converging which always happens when you have stable rules. It’s nothing we haven’t expected.

“At this circuit [Imola], McLaren were very quick and Ferrari as well,” the Red Bull boss maintained.

A shame for the #11 Red Bull

While Verstappen was fighting for glory, his teammate Sergio Perez was struggling to advance further down on the grid having started from 11th on the grid, but only managed eighth by the end of the race.

Horner reflected: “It was a shame for Checo, effectively being out of kilter following Qualifying. We ran the reverse strategy for him. He got P8 and P7 was theoretically the best we could see before the race on our analysis.

“We need him up there supporting Max, in the same way the two Ferraris and two McLarens are together,” he added.

Perez in under pressure to retain his Red Bull seat in 2025, and performances like Imola won’t help his chances, but Horner admits the Mexican has been better in 2024 compared to 2023.

He continued: “He [Perez] has had a much better start to this year bar this weekend which has been an anomaly, he’s been very strong.

“He’s been more relaxed, less focused on what Max is doing and focusing on himself. He’s responded to that,” Horner concluded.

Red Bull are still leading the F1 Constructors’ Championship with seven races behind us. Ferrari are in second with McLaren in third.