Max Verstappen was pleased with the improvements made by Red Bull Racing in between first and second practice for the Japanese Grand Prix on Friday, but he admits he is still not completely happy with the set-up of his RB15.
Verstappen ended the morning session at the Suzuka International Racing Course down in fifth position, but the improvements made saw him end up third in the afternoon, behind only the two Mercedes-AMG Motorsport drivers, Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.
The Dutchman admits he expected Mercedes to be strong this weekend but feels Red Bull are not too far away from the pace, and he will be fighting for a front-row grid slot in Sunday’s Qualifying session, should it go ahead.
“I wasn’t totally happy with the balance initially today, but we improved a lot from FP1 to FP2 which you can see from the lap times this afternoon,” said Verstappen. “There are still improvements to be made and Mercedes are looking very strong, which is no surprise on this track, but we made a good recovery from this morning.
“The new Esso fuel also seems to be a good step forward in terms of power which is really positive. It’s only Friday so you can’t really tell where everyone is, but we were all pushing a little harder in FP2 in case qualifying doesn’t happen on Sunday and these times set our grid positions.”
Verstappen says he will not change his approach to the weekend despite Qualifying being pushed back to Sunday morning due to the oncoming typhoon Hagibis, but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out when track action does resume.
“Because of the typhoon we won’t be on track tomorrow, but we have a full day to look at the data and I will probably set up a FIFA tournament with some of the other drivers,” said the Dutchman. “I’m not worried about doing qualifying and the race on Sunday as it won’t affect my approach.
“We can’t change the weather and it’s out of our control, so now we just have to see what happens on Sunday.”
For team-mate Alexander Albon, it is the Thai driver’s first visit to Suzuka, and his initial laps were used to acclimatise himself to the circuit, although he admitted it did not take as long as it did at the Sochi Autodrom two weeks ago.
Albon ended both sessions sixth fastest, but he feels there is still improvements to be found with his RB15, particularly with the balance, and should Qualifying go ahead on Sunday morning, he hopes to improve on that position so to be in a better place for the race.
“I’m quite happy with how today went and I’m loving the track so I can’t wait to get back out there,” said Albon. “Sector one is really impressive and I’m enjoying myself.
“I got into a rhythm quite quickly and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable than I was in Sochi, but I still have some work to do. It’s my first time driving here and not running tomorrow means less time for me to learn the track which isn’t ideal. It will hurt us a bit but it’s the same for everyone and we’ll get on with it.
“Mercedes are very quick and they look good in the corners but our car is getting a lot better and I don’t think the balance is too far away. We’re making good progress and there’s still a bit more to come, so now it’s just about fine tuning things to find a couple more tenths.
“Let’s see if qualifying goes ahead on Sunday as P6 is maybe not quite what we wanted. If it’s dry I hope to be in the mix of things but this track looks tricky in the wet so if it rains it will be a bit more difficult.”