Verstappen made a sensational start, muscling past Lewis Hamilton into the first corner, but a two-stop move by the reigning champion’s team overhauled the Dutch driver’s lead and left Red Bull taking second best again.
Asked if the team could have done anything different, Horner told Sky Sports F1: “I don’t think we could. Hats off to Mercedes and Lewis, they were just quicker than we were today.
“I was surprised they didn’t go for the undercut earlier and pull the trigger so we managed to keep track position. But the problem is when the field opens up to the degree that it did behind.
“Lewis just got a free stop. So they banked that, then you’ve given up track position so you’re in that horrible situation as the leader of trying to brave it out to the end.
“We knew he was probably going to catch us and then the only thing you can retaliate with is the fastest lap.”
Horner did take consolation in the thrilling start made by Verstappen but conceded it could have ended in disaster had Hamilton not reacted quickly to steer away slightly and take avoiding action.
Horner added: “Turn one was mega. Max was fully charged. That was full Max Verstappen. He was just going for it.
“He positioned the car fantastically well, tucked in and got a little bit of a tow and momentum and then just braked later and ran the car wide. Thankfully, Lewis got out of it because otherwise, they would have both ended up in the fence.”
He also revealed the uncharacteristically slow stop made by Red Bull when Verstappen came in for his first set of new tyres was down to the team being caught by surprise.
“We were gearing up for the stop then Max just arrived in the pit lane and we hadn’t actually called him in at that point,” he added.
“[It was] quick reactions from the pit wall, from GP his race engineer, from the pit crew, to get that turned around without losing time, it was a four-second stop. They recovered incredibly well to get that turned around.”
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