Max Verstappen feels that the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team “didn’t make the step needed” during Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix qualifying, where he qualified fifth fastest.
Engine supplier Renault had made so-called ‘party modes’ available to its customer teams, including Red Bull for the first time, although team principal Christian Horner labelled the extra power as ‘pre-drinks mode’ during the session.
Verstappen set a 1m:03.840s as his fastest time in the Q3 shootout for a provisional fifth on the grid, behind both cars from the Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport and Scuderia Ferrari teams for Red Bull’s home race.
After Sebastian Vettel received a three-place grid penalty for impeding Carlos Sainz, Jr. during the session, Verstappen was promoted a place on the grid, and will line-up alongside Kimi Räikkönen in fourth place.
“The car felt quicker in Q1 and Q2 but we just didn’t make the step needed in Q3,” explained Verstappen after out-qualifying team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
“All weekend we have been chasing the balance of the car so this means we are not as close as we would like. This not only affects qualifying but also our long run pace. We have it in a better window than yesterday so hopefully we can gain a bit more for tomorrow.”
The race is the first grand prix since Red Bull announced that it will sever ties with long-term engine supplier Renault at the end of the season, and switch to Honda power units for the 2019 season.
Despite Renault offering an upgraded, more powerful engine, Verstappen believes there is still more that can be extracted.
“I think there was a little gain from the engine mode we now have, but [it is] nothing really obvious and I need to go away and look to see how much we gained. I don’t think it is fully optimised yet, so hopefully there is more to come,” he observed.
Owing to the short lap at the Red Bull Ring, it is possible to make three runs during the 12-minute pole position shootout, and Red Bull opted to do this.
Team strategy dictates that the first driver out of the pits in qualifying alternates each weekend, with it being Ricciardo’s turn to go first after Verstappen did so at Circuit Paul Ricard for the French Grand Prix.
During the session, the Australian grew frustrated that he would be ‘towing’ Verstappen three times and not receiving the slipstreaming benefits himself.
At one point, he slowed and seemingly refused to tow Verstappen again. (See video below.)
Credit: Formula 1
“Last weekend I was ahead in the session and this weekend Daniel was ahead, that is the pre-planned strategy race by race so I kept to that,” explained the 20-year-old.
“They (Red Bull) asked me to overtake him but as I said, the plan was to remain behind so I stuck to it. As we managed to get three runs in it meant it was quite a rushed Q3 but at the end of the day I followed the plan.”