Christian Horner felt Max Verstappen drove a strong race at the Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday as his second-place finish ensured the Dutchman ended the year third in the Drivers’ Championship, the best finish so far of his career.
The podium, the ninth of 2019, was not as straightforward as it seemed, with Verstappen losing a place on the opening lap to Charles Leclerc, his rival for that third place in the standings, but a good drive thereafter kept him in touch with the Scuderia Ferrari driver, and he was able to make a pass into turn eight on the Monegasque racer for second after the pit stop cycle.
Horner, the Team Principal at Aston Martin Red Bull Racing, said good strategy and good pace provided Verstappen with the opportunity to repass Leclerc for second and end the season with another good result.
“It was a very strong race for Max to finish second and cement third in the Drivers’ Championship,” said Horner. “It was his ninth podium of the year and our 170th in total.
“We lost a position on the first lap to Leclerc but with good strategy and pace, Max got back past and it was a very comfortable second place to the end of the race.”
Horner says the team should see much more of Alexander Albon in 2020 after a strong first nine races with Red Bull that brought him eight top six finishes, although that first podium remains elusive.
Albon was in contention for fifth at best in Abu Dhabi but lost out to the two-stopping Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages as he gambled on beating the German with just the one trip to the pit lane.
“Alex was in the thick of it and his pace with Sebastian was right there today,” said Horner. “We tried to take advantage of Ferrari’s pit stop mishap by covering them off and it was very close but we just missed out.
“When Seb made his second stop we elected to do the opposite and we knew it would come down to the last couple of laps. P6 for Alex today is still a very positive result, he’s learned so much in the nine races he’s done with us with eight of them finishing in the top six. I’m sure we’re going to see much more from him next year.”
Horner was pleased with how the first season of racing with Honda has gone, with three victories and nine podiums, as well as two pole positions giving them good confidence to take into the winter break and into 2020.
“It’s always good to finish the year with donuts down the main straight, which our drivers are very good at, and I think it’s been a great second half of the year for Formula 1,” said Horner.
“For us, it’s very much been a transitionary year with Honda but as a Team we can be proud of our achievements and we go into the winter with good confidence.”