Max Verstappen took a podium finish in the Russian Grand Prix on Sunday despite starting at the back of field, although he admitted the timing of the rain and his switch to intermediate tyres ensured he minimalised his points loss to title rival Lewis Hamilton.
The Red Bull Racing driver had started the race at the Sochi Autodrom from the back row of the grid following an engine change and grid penalty, but he stormed through the field in the early laps to bring himself into the fight for the points.
He was running seventh, having lost a position to Fernando Alonso, when the rain began to fall, and his early switch enabled him to jump most of his rivals as they waited to pit themselves, ultimately picking up second place behind Hamilton.
“Wow, we will definitely take that result!” said Verstappen. “Of course to come from last to second is very good and when I woke up this morning I definitely didn’t expect this result. To finish where we did with the penalty we had, we didn’t lose as many points as we could have so as a Team we did a really good job.
“It was a crucial call to change to the inters, it was really slippery on track and we made a great decision with the timing and took the right lap to pit.”
Verstappen admitted it was difficult to find a way through the field from the back of the pack and starting at the back could have created more drama than it did, particularly on the opening lap with the field bunched up.
“A lot of things can happen when you’re starting from the back of the grid, especially on the first lap when other cars are fighting each other, but we stayed out of trouble, kept it clean, and managed our race very well,” he said.
“The race itself was not very easy, it was difficult to pass other cars and once you got stuck it was easy to damage your tyres but luckily in the end the rain helped us make the last jump in positions.”
“We were on for a great result with a podium through pure merit” – Sergio Pérez
Whereas Verstappen profited from the rain, team-mate Sergio Pérez lost out on what was looking like a certain podium, with the Mexican running third before gambling on staying out on slicks one lap longer than was, in hindsight, the best lap to pit.
After starting eighth on the grid, Pérez was able to shadow Hamilton for much of the first stint, but the Mexican lost ground after the pit stops after a technical problem on the pit gantry, and from there on in he was fighting for the bottom step of the podium.
However, the rain came and after a gamble, Pérez dropped down the order and could only score two points on a day where he felt he deserved so many more for his performance.
“We were on for a podium today so I decided to take the risk in staying out on the slicks instead of pitting for inters,” said Pérez. “In the first and third sector it was pretty dry and you could get temperature into the tyres, so if it then dried up those of us on the slicks would have made it work and those on the inters would have seen their race destroyed.
“In hindsight the slick wasn’t the right tyre and ultimately the timing of the rain in the race meant some people got lucky today and others didn’t. We were on for a great result with a podium through pure merit and despite a slow pit stop we still managed to come through the field to third but sometimes this is how racing is.”
Pérez revealed that it was not human error that caused his lengthy pit stop, and although it ultimately turned into a frustrating day for the Mexican, he was pleased the team were able to score some important points towards both championships.
“The issue with the stop wasn’t a human error and I spoke with my pit crew after the race to check they were okay because we’re obviously all disappointed,” said Pérez. “As a Team we still walk away with a lot of points today and yes, it is frustrating for me, but I feel like I got so much out of the car which is only promising going to Turkey in two weeks’ time.”