Max Verstappen feels Red Bull Racing seem to be competitive against Scuderia Ferrari in the early stages of the weekend at the Circuit Paul Ricard, but there is still a lot to do if they are to get close to Mercedes AMG Motorsport out front.
Verstappen finished fourth fastest in the morning session, 0.880 seconds off the pace of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton but ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, although he fell behind the German and McLaren F1 Team racer Lando Norris in the afternoon session as he finished 1.112 seconds behind the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas.
The Dutchman says the team will work hard overnight to see if they can close down the gap to the Mercedes duo up front, but he has hopes they can fight to be the best of the rest behind them ahead of Ferrari.
“We still have some work to do but we looked reasonably competitive against Ferrari,” said Verstappen. “Mercedes are still too quick but we will look at the data and see what we can improve for tomorrow.”
Verstappen says strategy during Saturday’s Qualifying session could be interesting, particularly with the soft and medium compounds of tyre offering very similar performance levels.
“The tyres are not that easy to predict and it seems that the softest compound is not a lot faster than the medium, which will make things quite interesting in qualifying,” said the Dutchman. “All in all, it wasn’t a bad day and we were able to make lots of changes, especially this morning, to fine tune our set-up for the rest of the weekend.”
Team-mate Pierre Gasly trailed Verstappen in both sessions, ending sixth in the morning session and eighth in the afternoon, although the Frenchman felt it was a good day for him as he, like Verstappen, trialled the new Honda power unit for the first time.
“Today was good,” admitted Gasly. “We tested a lot of new parts on the car and now I need to sit down and analyse with the guys what worked and what didn’t.
“Regarding the new Honda engine, it’s difficult to say much as I’ve just come out of the car but we will look at everything tonight and push it more tomorrow. The general feeling was good, the reliability was completely fine and in terms of performance, we need to see if it’s delivering what we expected.”
Gasly says the soft tyres in particularly seemed to fall away quickly on the new surface and with the temperatures being so high, so it will be important to work out what the best strategy will be for Sunday when the temperatures are expected to be even higher than on Friday.
“The conditions and also the tarmac made it difficult with the tyres and grip,” said the Frenchman. “In general it’s a bit different to what we expected coming into the weekend but it’s the same for everybody. In FP1, there was less grip initially but this afternoon it seemed a bit better so let’s see if it keeps increasing like this.
“The soft tyres seemed to fall away so we need to see what’s best in terms of strategy and what we can do for Sunday.”