A week on from his first race retirement of the year, Max Verstappen now faces the challenge of starting from the back of the grid for the 2019 Italian Grand Prix but has been buoyed by an encouraging Friday.
Verstappen made it as far as turn three in Belgium and arrived in Monza knowing he’d start the race from the rear of the field owing to a new Honda power unit being fitted to his car.
Despite the penalty of starting at the back, Verstappen remains confident of a strong race after Friday’s two free practice sessions left him impressed with Honda’s new power unit.
“It was a good day,” said Verstappen. “Of course, the conditions were a bit tricky out there, but the car was working really well and we seem quite competitive on a track that doesn’t normally suit us.
“Around Monza, the real lap time is hard to see because of the tow but my fastest lap was done on my own and it felt good.
“I definitely think this new engine is a good step forward and you can feel the extra power which is positive. We know we won’t battle in qualifying as we will start at the back but looking at the long runs the pace was good and the car felt really nice to drive in all conditions which is always a big bonus.”
Verstappen ended Friday fifth on the time-sheets with a lap-time of 1:21.350in practice two, some nine seconds quicker than his time set in the mixed conditions seen in the morning.
For the race, Verstappen admits that wet conditions would give him “a better chance” of a strong result.
“I would probably choose rain for Sunday starting at the back, as we will have a better chance of coming through the field, but even in the dry we can still be competitive and we will try to make a fun race out of it.”
As was the case in Belgium following Verstappen’s early retirement, new Red Bull Racing team-mate Alexander Albon will lead Red Bull’s charge heading in to qualifying, the rookie currently without any pending grid penalties.
Albon ended Friday sixth fastest with a lap-time of 1:21.589 and admits he’s still “finding his feet” in his new Red Bull surroundings.
“There were a few crashes today as this track can be quite slippery when it’s raining, particularly with all the sap from the trees washing onto the track,” said Albon. “We had mixed conditions, so we started out quite slowly but built up our confidence throughout the day.
“We are expecting similar conditions on Sunday so that is why everyone was out there trying to do some laps.
“I found the short runs were more positive than the long runs and, after today, I have a good idea about the things I need to change and work on for Sunday’s race. Of course, it’s not easy adjusting to less downforce, the braking feels different, but overall it didn’t feel too bad.
“I’m just finding my feet and that makes it important to get everything right. We will see what tomorrow brings but after today I’m feeling pretty good.”