The Toro Rosso drivers Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen have given F1 fans a lot of pleasure this season, but in Singapore they gave their team a headache with a team orders spat, which had to be defused by the team boss Franz Tost.
Red Bull and its sister team Toro Rosso have a policy of using one car to help another in race strategy (although this broke down in the Webber/Vettel days at Red Bull). And we have seen plenty of examples this season with both teams.
However in this case, Tost backed Max Verstappen’s decision to refuse an order to allow teammate Carlos Sainz through in the closing stages of the Singapore Grand Prix, as both drivers scored much needed points around Marina Bay.
Both men were mounting powerful recovery drives after setbacks early in the race. Verstappen’s car was pushed off the grid and he went a lap down before the fist Safety Car gave him a lifeline, while Sainz lost six positions with a gearbox glitch and then lost further time in a pit stop.
Toro Rosso went aggressive on strategy, putting the pair on supersoft tyres for the final stint to attack and pass the Lotus drivers, who had stopped very early (Laps 26 and 27) for soft tyres and were vulnerable at the end.
In the closing stages, Verstappen was twice asked to let Sainz go by during the final few laps of the race because the Spanish driver was running one lap newer supersoft tyres and felt he could attack Sergio Perez, who was holding up the Toro Rosso pair.
Sainz felt that he should have been allowed the chance to use his tyre advantage to attack Perez and if he could not get past the Mexican he would let Verstappen back through, in a similar manner to what the Red Bull drivers did in the Monaco Grand Prix earlier this year.
“I saw what Red Bull did in Monaco and said ‘this is the best thing you can do’ – play the team game and let the guy on a newer tyre, that was me, try, at least have one shot,” said Sainz after the race.
“If I can’t [get past Perez], Max finishes P8 and me P9. I just wanted one shot, [but] he never gave it to me. It’s not an issue for me, but sometimes you have to think about the team and not just yourself.”
Sainz added that he had been asked to let Verstappen through on three occasions so far this season and that he had complied each time while Verstappen refused to do the same for him.
He said: “I don’t need to tell him [anything], I’m sure the team is the one who needs to talk with him. I had three times this year that they asked me to let him by [and] I did it three times. The team asked him three times this year to let me by [and] he has never done it yet.”
But Tost defended Verstappen and explained that Sainz was not close enough to his teammate to justify being allowed through to attack Perez.
Tost said: “The team wanted to swap positions because we thought Carlos was faster with the new tyres, but this was not the case, he could not catch up. He was too far away, so Max said no, and he was right.
“I said over the intercom if Carlos is not close then it makes no sense to swap positions because he would never get Perez as he is too far behind – between three and five tenths behind.
“You have to catch up, and [Sainz] should have shown at first he was capable of overtaking Max before then trying to catch Perez.”
Verstappen felt that his recovery to get back into the points paying positions meant he did not have to let his teammate through.
He said: “If you’re one lap down and you manage to be back in the points as the leading Toro Rosso, then for me there is no reason to switch positions.
“With Checo, we couldn’t have got past because his top speed was unbelievable. I made it quite clear I didn’t want to do it, and at the end they told me it was the right decision.”
Both Toro Rosso drivers were running well down the field as they started their final stints. They then both took full advantage of the second safety car bunching the field up and used the supersoft tyres to charge through the rear end of the field and back into the points before they were halted by Perez.
Verstappen’s supersoft tyres were one lap older than Sainz’s and the Spaniard felt he should be given the chance to use that advantage to attack Perez, and if he failed to pass the Force India, he would drop back behind Verstappen in much the same way Daniel Ricciardo did for Daniil Kvyat on the final lap of the Monaco Grand Prix in May.
While Sainz did get close to Verstappen as they both climbed back though the tail end of the field in the closing laps, he was never within 0.3s of the Dutchman at any stage after the final pitstops. After they caught Perez he did not come within 0.4s and that gap led to Verstappen’s refusal to the team’s calls, and Toro Rosso defending his decision after the race.
As well as vying for an opportunity with the main Red Bull team in the next year or two, both drivers are on the radar of other top teams and their competition is proving one of the brighter stories in F1 this season. Sainz currently leads Verstappen 7-6 in qualifying, but Verstappen has 30 points to Sainz’s 11. Sainz has five retirements to Verstappen’s four, although one of those was the Dutchman’s high speed accident in Monaco.
What do you think? Was Verstappen right to refuse the order? Leave your comments below