Red Bull Racing‘s early Chinese Grand Prix weekend performance shows that it is closer to Formula 1 rivals Mercedes AMG Motorsport and Scuderia Ferrari, according to Max Verstappen.
Verstappen broke into the top three of the standings in Free Practice 2 at the Shanghai International Circuit with a time of 1:33.551, two-tenths of a second shy of Mercedes pacesetter Valtteri Bottas, after ending Free Practice 1 in fourth position.
A slight mistake on the exit of Turn 16 on his best run scuppered any chances of eclipsing Bottas or second-placed man Sebastian Vettel.
The Dutchman completed 40 laps in his Honda-powered RB15, believing that Red Bull has addressed some of the set-up issues that plagued its Bahrain Grand Prix two weeks’ ago.
Both Verstappen and team-mate Pierre Gasly complained of a lack of rear grip around the Bahrain International Circuit, despite Verstappen narrowly missing out on a second podium in as many races.
“Today has been pretty good,” said Verstappen.
“We have a good balance in the car and not too many issues, so I’m pretty happy.
“Of course there was a question mark coming here after Bahrain but we were all quite confident that if we could solve the issue we would be a lot closer, which I think we have shown today.
“The long runs were alright but it is all about managing your tyres over a race distance here, but that’s the same for everyone.”
However, Verstappen’s afternoon session was not without its faults – holding extensive radio talks with race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase over the feel and quality of the downshifts in the final 20 minutes of the afternoon session.
Additionally the 21-year-old reported that the right side of his seat was getting increasingly warm after the chequered flag fell, before complaining that the car felt “broken” and that the clutch was “catching”.
While Verstappen does not expect Red Bull to be a serious contender for pole position on Saturday, he does believe that the team has made improvements relative to Mercedes and Ferrari.
Red Bull won this race 12 months ago, courtesy of former driver Daniel Ricciardo.
“Overall, I’m happy with the pace so far and tonight we just need to fine tune the set-up,” Verstappen continued.
“I think pole position will be tough tomorrow and it’s too early to say exactly where we are but we’re a lot closer, so hopefully in the race we can mix it up.”