Red Bull devised a clever tyre strategy for the 70th Anniversary race, one which put the onus on Max Verstappen to deliver a big lap on a single run in Q2 on the gold dust-rare hard tyre.
The eight sets of C4 soft tyres available for each car for the weekend were essentially worthless, good for no more than three or four laps in the race and not even decisively faster than the C3 medium over a qualifying lap. But teams had only three sets per car of these – and only two sets of the C2 hards. Teams were trying to retain the mediums and hards for race day. Red Bull convinced Verstappen to go for the hards in Q2, so he could start the race on the alternative strategy. These were around 0.9sec slower over a lap than the mediums. And he had to do his time on one run, because using up the only other set of hards would impact badly on the race strategy (using up the peak grip available of a new tyre on its first flying lap typically uses up a disproportionate amount of its life).
Verstappen’s on-the-limit Q2 lap squeezed him through ninth-fastest, 0.2sec clear of the cut-off, allowing him to graduate to Q3 where he qualified fourth. The gamble had paid off. Had it not and he had started from 11th or 12th, would he have been able to even get close enough to the two Mercedes to take advantage of their severe graining?
In hindsight, Red Bull would likely have beaten the struggling Mercedes without the hard-tyre gamble, but it showed the wits of a team not scared to push the limits.