Lewis Hamilton's decision to start the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on the Hard tyres allowed Red Bull to figure out a way to keep Max Verstappen's rubber alive until the end of the race, according to Helmut Marko.
With Verstappen chasing down leader Charles Leclerc after their switch to the Hard compound on Lap 16 of 50, it was the Dutchman who appeared to have the better tyre life as the race reached its climax following a late Virtual Safety Car intervention.
Having been stuck at around 1.5 seconds behind Leclerc, Verstappen's pace came alive when the action resumed and the Red Bull driver relentlessly attacked the Ferrari until he eventually found a way past.
Verstappen made it very clear in the post-race interviews that he had deliberately set about preserving his Hard tyres for a late attack, with Marko explaining how Red Bull had watched what Hamilton had done.
Hamilton started the race on the Hard compound
Having started the race from 15th, Hamilton opted for the Hard tyre for his first stint.
It proved to be a good call, with Hamilton making some good early gains as he sliced past the ailing Medium runners approaching their stops.
The seven-time World Champion had made it as high as sixth by Lap 35, when his race fell apart due to an unfortunately-timed pit lane closure just as he wanted to make his mandatory stop.
But Hamilton's long stint had shown Red Bull what was possible with some careful driving.
"We looked closely at the tyre wear on the Hard tyres with Hamilton at the beginning," Marko is quoted by Germany's Auto Motor und Sport.
"We told Max that he could really push."
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Verstappen performs a balancing act
One of the considerations Verstappen had to take into account as he babied his tyres was the fact that the Red Bull was running marginally less downforce than the Ferrari.
This meant Verstappen had to walk a fine line between not losing too much time through the more technical first sector, without punishing the tyres too much in his attempts to keep up.
"We deliberately set the car up for the race," Marko explained.
"As a result, we lost in Sector 1, but we were faster on the straights. And when you have a driver like Max in the cockpit, you can count on him to implement that."
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