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I didn't expect this result, admits Verstappen

NEWS STORY
27/09/2021

Following the ultimate example of damage limitation, little wonder Max Verstappen and Red Bull see Sochi result as a victory.

While Lando Norris will awake this morning wondering what he ever did to offend Lady Luck, a number of drivers will be thanking her for looking down favourably on them.

Chief among these has to be Valtteri Bottas, who somehow salvaged fifth despite an unusually lacklustre performance.

Whatever Mercedes reasons for giving the Finn a new engine - thereby demoting him to the back of the grid - not only did he offer no resistance to Max Verstappen when challenged, he failed to follow the Red Bull driver as he carved his way through the field. Instead the Alfa-bound Finn spent much of the first half of the race staring at the back of Pierre Gasly's AlphaTauri.

Meanwhile, Verstappen made it as high as fifth before making his scheduled pit stop.

However, on a different strategy to his title rival, on switching to mediums for the long final stint the Dutchman was pushing it to the limit from the outset and subsequently paid the price.

Making his way back up to seventh, his fate appeared sealed, a situation not helped by the fact that Lewis Hamilton was continuing to shadow race leader Lando Norris.

However, when the rain began to fall, Verstappen was one of the first to make the switch to Inters, and subsequently reaped the dividend, finishing second to the Mercedes driver.

"To come from last to second is very, very good," he told Sky Sports. "With the penalty we had, to only lose one spot basically is definitely not too bad.

"When I woke up this morning, I definitely didn't expect this result!" he admitted.

"The race itself was not very easy as it was very difficult to pass," he continued. "Once you got stuck it was very easy to damage your tyres.

"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.

"We managed all of that very good, and the crucial call to go to the inters worked out," he grinned. "The rain helped us to make that last jump. I think we decided at the right time to pit.

"It was pretty tricky on the in-lap to make the call to go to inters," he admitted. "I think we decided at the right time to pit, because if we would have gone one lap earlier you would've probably destroyed the inters in the last sector. It was really slippery on track and we made a great decision with the timing and took the right lap to pit."

"Today was like a victory for us," concurred Christian Horner. "To come from 20th on the grid to second, I think if anybody had offered us that we would have bitten your arm off.

"Max got the call right to go on the inters and it worked out well for him," said the Briton, who revealed that simulations had predicted that the best Verstappen could hope for was fifth. "The rain, the last five laps came at the right time."

With Verstappen having taken on a new engine and served his penalty, the Dutchman leaves Russia just two points down on Hamilton, consequently Horner heads to Turkey and beyond feeling justifiably confident.

"To come away from two Mercedes strongholds with only a two-point deficit in the drivers' championship is hugely encouraging," he said. "I don't think there's any circuit that stands out as strongly as Russia and Monza for Mercedes. You could say it's 50-50 in what's left on the table."

Check out our Sunday gallery from Sochi, here.

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