Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner reckons that Max Verstappen would have contended for Singapore Grand Prix if his rivals didn’t have a free pit stop.
Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez both started the race outside the top 10, equipped with the Hard compound, hoping to run long and capitalise on a late Safety Car.
Unfortunately for this strategy, the Safety Car came out on Lap 20 for Logan Sargeant's brush with the wall and the resulting debris, allowing the Medium runners to pit and not lose as much time.
Red Bull stayed out to extend its stints, but both Verstappen and Perez struggled for pace at the restart.
Verstappen made major inroads in the latter stages of the Grand Prix after switching to the Medium compound, crossing the line in fifth place, having dropped to 15th but carved back through to finish two-tenths behind Charles Leclerc.
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Horner on Verstappen's win chances
However, Horner believes that the Dutchman would have competed with the front-running pack in the final laps if they didn’t have the chance to put under the Safety Car.
"I think the pre-race simulations was saying about P7," Horner told media including RacingNews365.
"But that's in a standard race.
“I think, ironically enough, if we'd have had a standard race, the strategy that we had with Carlos holding the front up because of the deg on those Hard tyres, Max would have definitely come into play with the pace that he had at the end of the race.
"So when you look at the distance, the delta he was off to the leaders, by the end of it, if you take away the delta for the free stops, suddenly bang - he’s right in the game."
Verstappen finished 21.441s behind Sainz for his first fifth place in a Grand Prix since the 2019 British GP, 87 races ago.