Max Verstappen started and finished the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in fourth position, but the Dutchman reckons a podium finish was within his grasp but for the virtual safety car, which halted his progress towards Sebastian Vettel.
The Red Bull Racing driver had been the quickest driver on track lap after lap, setting fastest lap after fastest lap, but lost tyre temperature when the virtual safety car was deployed, ironically to recover the stricken car of team-mate Pierre Gasly, who had retired with a driveshaft failure on his RB15.
The result, coupled with Vettel finishing third, meant Verstappen dropped behind the Scuderia Ferrari driver and into fourth place in the Drivers’ Championship, but he admitted it was not worth risking his result to push hard with his tyres outside their best operating window.
“In general we had a good race,” said Verstappen. “I always had the Mercedes and Ferrari in sight and I was just trying to close the gap.
“At the start I was blocked and couldn’t really brake deep into the corner, which allowed [Sergio] Pérez to get past me. Of course, that lost me a bit of ground but you don’t want to risk everything on Lap 1. Once I got back past, we went a little bit longer than the others on the soft tyre and I had a good feeling with the car.
“We had good pace, especially on the medium tyre in the second stint where I closed the gap by seven or eight seconds. With the Virtual Safety Car, I think I lost too much tyre temperature and I couldn’t get it back as quickly as the others. Around here, tyre temperature is key and you end up sliding a lot more with low temperatures so it wasn’t worth risking the position in the final laps.”
Verstappen is already turning his attention to the Spanish Grand Prix in two weeks time and the Dutchman is hoping the team can continue to bridge the gap to Mercedes-AMG Motorsport and Ferrari at the front of the field.
“The performance in Barcelona will of course depend on the upgrades that everyone is bringing but hopefully we can be even more competitive and close the gap even further,” said the Dutchman.