Max Verstappen's charge from 20th on the grid to second place at the Russian Grand Prix feels like a victory, according to the Austrian team's chief Christian Horner. The Dutchman carved his way through traffic early on in the race and the team made the right call in the final laps when the rain arrived to help their driver to second behind race winner Lewis Hamilton.
The Mercedes team were expected to dominate at Sochi, especially with Verstappen starting from the back of the grid. Hamilton would have hoped to put some distance between himself and his chief title rival going into the final seven rounds of the season. However, with Verstappen finishing second, the Briton now holds just a slim two-point lead in the championship.
Moreover, Red Bull believe that Mercedes will have to take another grid penalty for Hamilton before the end of the season by adding a new power unit into the mix. Valtteri Bottas also started at the back of the grid in Russia after the team decided to introduce a new power unit.
Verstappen now has four power units to choose from for the rest of the season, which will see him in good stead as he battles for the title. The upcoming races are also projected to be more favourable to the Red Bull car, after facing some struggles in the power sensitive Monza and Sochi tracks.
"Before the race in Sochi we thought that a fifth place would be the optimal for Max," Horner said, as quoted on GP Blog. "From 20th to second, that feels like a victory. After two strong circuits from Mercedes, Max is only two points behind. That's encouraging."
Hamilton, unlike Verstappen, has only three engines in his pool with seven races remaining. Red Bull Racing advisor Helmut Marko and Horner believe Mercedes will take an engine penalty before the end of the campaign, which could benefit the Dutch racer in the title race.
"If you see how many engines Mercedes has already consumed this year, including the sister teams, I do expect them to take another penalty. But we don't know that," the Red Bull team principal added.