Max Verstappen demonstrated exceptional race awareness – and determination to exploit every points-scoring opportunity – when he interfered with Mercedes’ attempt to take the fastest lap bonus away from him in Sunday’s race.
A first-corner crash and slow pit stop had left Valtteri Bottas languishing in 13th place. With no realistic hope of him scoring a point, Mercedes decided to use him to their advantage by giving him an extra pit stop for fresh tyres in order set the fastest lap. Although Bottas would finish outside the top 10 and not score the bonus point, the ploy would prevent Verstappen and Red Bull taking it.
However Bottas emerged from the pits in the mirrors of Verstappen, who was leading the race by almost 20 seconds from the other Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. When Red Bull explained to their driver why a quick Mercedes had suddenly appeared in his mirrors, Verstappen realised he could interfere with Bottas’ attempt to claim the bonus point.
He backed off by almost four seconds, sacrificing a small portion of his lead, and delayed Bottas. All of this was completely legal, as Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff acknowledged.
“It was a bit of playing around,” he said. “Max was aware that Valtteri was going for quickest lap and he then slowed him down, which is absolutely on, you can do that.”
Bottas un-lapped himself from the Red Bull, at which point Verstappen speeded up again. He got close enough to Bottas that the Mercedes driver was automatically shown blue flags, which meant he had to slow down and let Verstappen lap him again.
As the transcript below shows, at no point did Red Bull tell Verstappen to do any of this. Indeed, they told him to increase his pace when he slowed to delay Bottas. He acted entirely on his own initiative.
“It certainly didn’t help our blood pressure on the pit wall,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “Obviously there was a little bit of playing around because Max was keen to retain the fastest lap, so therefore he was trying to use the blue flag to ensure that Valtteri gave way to him and that Mercedes pitted him out of the way. So we weren’t going to do the same with Max, obviously.
“It was a little bit of gamesmanship again, haggling over that final point, which we didn’t want to get too drawn into.”
Perhaps anticipating Verstappen’s retaliation, Mercedes had left enough time in hand to pit Bottas again, give him further fresh tyres, and find a suitable spot in the queue of traffic to bang in the fastest lap. This time he was able to use DRS as he overtook George Russell, and his lap of 1’17.774 on the final tour beat Verstappen’s benchmark by over a second.
The race winner praised Bottas after their skirmish. “I can understand, of course, they go for the fastest lap,” said Verstappen, who trusted his world championship rival’s team mate to avoid any funny business.
“We were side-by-side but it was all good. We lost a lot of time but it was alright, to be honest, for me. I know Valtteri, he’s a clean driver anyway and I never was in doubt that something would happen.”
Verstappen’s race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase complimented him on his tactics, saying “nice catch”. As the race ended Horner didn’t immediately realise Bottas had claimed the fastest lap back, and congratulated Verstappen on scoring the bonus before correcting himself.
But Verstappen’s shrewd move ensured that had his rival encountered more traffic or a yellow flag on the final lap, he and Red Bull would have kept a potentially crucial extra point.
Quotes: Dieter Rencken
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Transcript: How Verstappen disrupted Bottas’ fastest lap bid
Note: Bottas was two laps behind Verstappen after making his third pit stop.
|63||Musconi||You will be close to Verstappen at exit.||65||Lambiase||Bottas rejoins the track and lets Verstappen past approaching turn one|
So Bottas at pit out now. He should let you through.
|63||Musconi||Blue flags for Verstappen.||65||Lambiase||So he’s just fitted a scrubbed soft, obviously going for fastest lap. He won’t get the point.|
|63||Musconi||We’ve got Stroll four seconds behind.||65||Verstappen||Who has the fastest lap now.|
|63||Musconi||So fastest lap is 18.999, which is -0.8 on your dash. DRS is worth quite a lot so try to keep with him.||65||Lambiase||You currently have it. As I say Bottas has a fresh soft on.|
|63||Bottas||And what is Max’s lap times?|
|64||Bottas||He’s slowing me down.||66||Lambiase||Okay five laps remaining, five laps remaining.|
|66||Lambiase||Gap behind 2.8.|
|66||Lambiase||Verstappen slows down by over three seconds in one lap|
Okay let’s get on with it, Max.
|65||Musconi||You can overtake him.||67||Lambiase||Bottas un-laps himself approaching turn one|
Okay keep on him, he’ll have blues, but do not take any risks, Max.
|65||Musconi||Okay so blue flags, let him by, and box, box, box we can charge the pack.||67||Lambiase||Okay let him go, Max.|
|67||Verstappen||Mate he is in front.|
|67||Verstappen||He is in my way.|
|67||Lambiase||Max, he’s not quick.|
|67||Verstappen||No, he is in my way.|
|66||Musconi||Let me know if you need any other flap. Let him by, let him by.||68||Verstappen||Verstappen laps Bottas again approaching turn one|
Can he let me by please, I have DRS.
|66||Musconi||So is flap good for the first lap?||68||Lambiase||Okay it sounds like Bottas is going to pit again and have another go. But that was a nice catch.|
|66||Bottas||Plus two.||68||Lambiase||Three laps remaining at Max, all focus next three laps, please. Full focus.|
|66||Musconi||So box, box, box.|
|66||Musconi||So brake balance for the line, second gear again, it will be five-second hold. So another soft, plus two.|
|67||Musconi||Mercedes hold Bottas in the pits to ensure he rejoins the track in a gap where he can set a quick time|
Just be waiting five seconds for traffic.
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