Max Verstappen was robbed of the chance to deliver his maiden Formula 1 podium by the late-race safety cars at the United States Grand Prix, reckons his team boss.
The Dutchman eventually finished fourth at Austin, but Toro Rosso chief Franz Tost thinks there was a chance of doing even better if Mercedes had not been helped out by incidents.
Like Sebastian Vettel, Verstappen had stopped for tyres at the first safety car when Marcus Ericsson came to a halt on track – and it appeared to have handed both men a good opportunity to beat Mercedes.
But when the virtual safety car for Nico Hulkenberg's crash and the full safety car for Daniil Kvyat's crash were called out, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton got their stops out of the way without losing much time.
Speaking to Motorsport.com about what would have happened if the race had panned out without those safety cars, Tost said: “If it would have been a non-safety car, I am convinced that Vettel would have won the race.
“I could not believe that Mercedes did not stop [at the first safety car] as they had to come in once more. And if it had continued, I don't think they could have caught Vettel any more.
“And, it could have been that Max would have finished on the podium. This was what I was calculating. But unfortunately there was once more a safety car which helped Mercedes.
“Nevertheless it was a real good performance and a real good result and I am more than happy with the team and the drivers.”
Verstappen getting better
Tost said that Verstappen's run to fourth once again highlighted his speed as a driver – and showed evidence that he was getting stronger over the season.
“Of course he is getting better,” said Tost. “He has a very steep learning curve and gradient, and Max did a fantastic job this weekend.
“And I can tell you why: on Friday he could not run in P1, no timed laps because of technical problems, and he came today in to qualifying without knowing the track very well, and he qualified in Q3.
“The race itself was also a very strong performance from his side from the beginning onwards because he was always in the front part of the group.
“At the end, he controlled the race and he knew exactly how fast he had to drive, how to be careful with the tyres and graining, and how to operate in the car.
"He had everything under control, and it was really impressive – a fantastic job.”
Tost also believed that Carlos Sainz deserved praise for his fighting spirit, having recovered from a qualifying crash.
“Carlos also did a real good job because he had this accident in the morning [qualifying]. He had a good start, coming back from 11th position on the first lap, and it showed how aggressive he was without touching anyone and without running into trouble.
“His last stint was also very, very exciting. Just look at how many cars he overtook. He was showing also that he has a lot of potential. Our drivers, both of them, are showing a very, very good performance.”