Max Verstappen would have been able to attack Lewis Hamilton for victory at the Japanese Grand Prix had he not encountered a blistered tyre, according to Red Bull team principal Christian Horner.
The Red Bull driver was narrowly beaten by Hamilton in Japan, having closed onto the back of the Mercedes driver's gearbox on the penultimate lap. Verstappen made early moves on teammate Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel and was able to keep Hamilton honest during the opening stint.
He then sat around 3s off the race lead before his late charge when Hamilton hit traffic, but Horner revealed Verstappen had been instructed to maintain a constant gap in order to prevent a blister on his front-left tyre from worsening.
"We were managing, pretty much from lap 35/36, a widening blister on the inside front left tire that was getting ever deeper and wider," Horner explained. "So we asked Max to maintain a three second gap so as to not get in the dirty air so as to damage that tyre further.
"He was still able to easily sit there. As we got closer to the end of the race after the VSC he said 'can I have a go?' and we said 'as long as you are sensible in the way that you approach it, fine'. Bang, suddenly he was on Lewis's gearbox."
Like Hamilton, Verstappen also found himself compromised behind backmarkers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in the closing laps, which enabled Hamilton to pull a vital buffer when he finally was able to clear the traffic.
"It was a bit unlucky that he came across Fernando and Felipe having their own battle because I think another clear lap he certainly would have had a go, whether it would have worked or not I don't know. But he would have had a crack at making a pass. It always would have been pretty difficult."
Horner admitted the team was concerned Verstappen could suffer a puncture similar to the one Sebastian Vettel suffered in the closing stages of the British Grand Prix.
"It is something that developed. We saw it in the first stint and then because the second stint was 25 percent longer, it reappeared.
"It was a concern because you think back to Sebastian Vettel in Silverstone, it is very easy to pick up a puncture. I don't know what happened to Lance Stroll but that looked like a puncture on the left front. We were all a bit nervous about that."