Abu Dhabi Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen feared a repeat of his Imola tyre failure after he reported vibrations during the Formula 1 season finale.
The Dutchman was never headed in the race, with Verstappen easing into a rhythm after the start before the Safety Car was deployed for Sergio Perez’s stricken Racing Point on Lap 11.
The Safety Car brought forward the planned pit window, with the majority of the field stopping under yellow.
Verstappen nursed his hard tyres for 45 laps to the end, but was heard on team radio reporting a vibration with 11 laps remaining in the race.
The 23-year-old appeared concerned, telling his engineer: “Did you see that, out of the corner how much vibrations and oscillation?”
The Mercedes challenge behind never materialised and Verstappen took his 10th grand prix win by over 15 seconds, but it wasn’t without a scare.
“I was thinking back, a little bit at Spa, but of course Imola,” said Verstappen, touching on the tyre failure that saw him spin out of second place at Imola earlier this year.
“I was keeping an eye on it on every straight, but luckily it was all good. The pace was still there, the tyres were still performing.
“It was an enjoyable race… we had a decent start, and from there onwards, I could manage the gap and could look after my tyres.
“The Safety Car came out at a little bit of an unfortunate time I think, because we then had to do a very long stint of course on the hard. Luckily the tyre coped with it, but you still have to manage it a bit more.
“The car was really good today, and just a good balance so then you can look after your tyres and I could just build a gap all the way through the race.”
Verstappen said he was trying to build a “safety margin” to the trailing Mercedes pair after the Safety Car should his tyres begin to wear.
“Always with a margin because you knew that you had to do quite a lot of laps and then so basically I was just looking at what the guys behind me were doing,” he said.
“Of course I was trying to build a little bit of a gap but not, let’s say, in ten laps time, just every lap trying to get a bit out of it to have a bit of a safety margin in case your tyres suddenly drop or whatever.
“But then you couldn’t go flat out but anyway on this track, you cannot do that because it’s just too hard on tyres and the last sector is quite tough.”
Verstappen ended the year just nine points adrift of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas for second place in the final drivers’ championship standings, taking 11 podiums in 17 starts.
However, while conceding he was surprised at how big the gap to Mercedes was in Abu Dhabi, Verstappen laid down the gauntlet to his team to start 2021 strongly and help him mount a title challenge.
“To be honest before I got here I didn’t expect to win the race and be on pole,” he said.
“Of course I also read that (the Mercedes) had to turn the engines down a bit, so that’s not helping for them.
“In general I think still the car performed very strong and better than expected, so of course very happy with that.
“It’s a great way to finish the season, it’s a good boost for everyone in the team.
“I just hope of course that we learn from the previous years that we have to be stronger in the beginning of the season to be able to give then a little bit of a harder time.”