Max Verstappen admits he nearly threw away victory in a “stressful” Emilia Romagna Grand Prix when his mistake almost led to a spin from the lead.
The Red Bull driver had taken the lead from Lewis Hamilton in wet conditions at the start of the race and held onto it under pressure on a drying track, receiving a boost when Hamilton went off and damaged his front wing. With Charles Leclerc behind him during a race restart with 30 laps remaining, Verstappen almost spun when trying to accelerate to as the safety car peeled into the pits, but just gathered the car at the penultimate corner and had a comfortable run after that.
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“It’s never easy, a race like this — quite stressful out there to make the right calls,” Verstappen said. “The key I think was to get that good launch, which was also a bit of a surprise to me that after last year where we always struggled in the wet — I think over the winter and the beginning of the year we’ve definitely made some improvements with that and today that was very good.
“Then after that, to make the right calls from intermediates to slicks was not easy, because I saw a few guys ahead of me with slick tires but they were struggling a lot. Even on the intermediates, they were finished so to keep on going was difficult — a lot of sliding around and if you would go a few centimeters off-line you could lose the car.
“But once we put on the slicks it was all fine. Of course, we had the red flag with so much debris into Turn 2. Basically, the advantage was gone. Then I had my moment at the restart. It was a big one — it was some secret tire warming going on. After that, it was fine.”
Verstappen thinks he was within his rights to retain the lead as he got back onto the track quickly, with Leclerc not overtaking him due to the error.
“I was off track for a bit but once I was back on the track, of course, I was driving slow because I was recovering, getting my steering wheel straight and then I don’t think you can pass anymore. I think when you see cars drifting like that in front of you, first of all you back out as you don’t know where it’s going to go.
“I don’t know, it’s seconds. Maybe you have a chance of two, three seconds to do it. It’s so tricky out there with tires, you don’t want to also suddenly brake too or spin yourself — it can happen.”
Explaining the other dramatic moment as he and Hamilton went side-by-side at Turn 2 on the opening lap, Verstappen felt the pair didn’t touch, but Hamilton confirmed they did.
“I didn’t think we touched, so I don’t know. I will have to watch the video again. I had a good launch — I was just getting speed, speed, speed — but then you go to Turn 2, it’s a bit difficult to judge your braking point: you have cold tires, it’s easy to outbrake yourself as this track with all the gravel around and stuff. It’s easy to damage your car.
“We went into Turn 2 side-by-side. It’s difficult to expect grip in the first lap. I also ended up a bit wider than I wanted and then Lewis was also there but at one point these yellow sausages were there, then I saw Lewis had to go over them.”