Teams were unsure but it was Mercedes that kept an extra set of medium tyres available to them in the race just in case a two-stop strategy emerged as the preferential route to go. Red Bull burned through its sets of the yellow-walled tyre, so when Hamilton pulled in for a surprise second pitstop on lap 42, Verstappen was a sitting duck.
That decision fell on the pitwall but it should be two apiece between the title contenders and the other lost win is down to the driver. Hamilton’s Bahrain victory came in dramatic circumstances courtesy of an on-track error by Verstappen that gave him all the breathing room he needed. In order to challenge the top dog, each element of the team from the cockpit to HQ have to be working at peak performance.
Hockenheim 2019 is often cited as what happens when Mercedes is put under pressure but if that’s as bad as things can get for the world champions, it underlines just how good the team is. A bad day for Mercedes occurs so infrequently, they stick out like a sore thumb from the vast number of races the team wins by being perfect.
You don’t have to go too far back either to see what happens when a team has title aspirations but can’t maintain the level required. Ferrari’s 2017 and 2018 seasons against the Mercedes juggernaut underlined how a team can collapse under its weight of expectation.
Sebastian Vettel’s title charges ultimately petered out despite leading the standings at the summer break in ’17 and up to a calamitous German GP in 2018. Indecision over allowing Vettel to pass team-mate Kimi Räikkönen on a different strategy was compounded by a crash into retirement as the rain fell.
A toxic atmosphere developed within the team and mistrust between then team principal Maurizio Arrivabene and Vettel meant no matter how good the car was, the team was never operating at the level required to match the metronomic Mercedes. Red Bull absolutely cannot afford for such an eventuality to occur with Verstappen or it could quickly find itself without its crown jewel.
Where that Ferrari combination lacked harmony and faith in its star driver, Red Bull does provide for Verstappen currently. Yet there is another weak link for the Milton Keynes team where Maranello actually did perform well and that is with its second driver.