Max Verstappen got within a tenth of a second from splitting the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team drivers, but the Dutchman was forced to settle for third on the grid for the Belgian Grand Prix on Saturday.
The Dutchman was fourth after the first run in Q3 but improved his time to a 1:41.778 to move ahead of Renault DP World F1 Team’s Daniel Ricciardo, with his time just 0.015 seconds behind Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.
Verstappen says it has been a positive weekend for Aston Martin Red Bull Racing after arriving at Spa-Francorchamps expecting to be a long way behind Mercedes, but to get as close as they did to them was a good achievement.
“Overall, it’s been a really positive weekend so far, we came here and thought it was going to be really tricky for us and actually to be that close to Valtteri and in P3 is a good result,” said Verstappen.
“The lap was decent and of course I always look at the fastest car and we are half a second down but I think it is the closest we have been to Mercedes in qualifying this year. For us on this track, that is not normally our type of qualifying track, I think we can all be very happy with the result and now I’m looking forward to the race.”
Looking ahead to the race, the weather conditions at Spa-Francorchamps are uncertain, with rain a possibility. Despite this, Verstappen says he is happy with the balance of his RB16 and expects to be competitive come rain or shine.
“I don’t think we prefer a wet or dry race but a change in weather during the race would spice things up,” said the Dutchman. “This track is amazing to drive in qualifying and already very exciting in the race, but if the weather comes into play a bit like last year at Hockenheim then it could be very special.
“I’m happy with the balance of the car and we have made a good step. Now we need to hope for a good start and then we can push Mercedes hard and maximise our result again.”
“I’m happy with P5 and it’s all to play for tomorrow” – Alexander Albon
Team-mate Alexander Albon had one of his better Qualifying performances of the season and will line-up directly behind Verstappen in fourth, although the Thai driver will have been disappointed to have set his best lap in Q2 rather than Q3.
Albon believes that had he got everything right during his final run he could have denied Ricciardo a spot on row two, although from the third row of the grid, he feels there is plenty to play for on race day in Belgium.
“I’m happy with P5 and it’s all to play for tomorrow,” said Albon. “I think P4 was possible but I made a small mistake into Turn One on my final run which cost me some time otherwise I think we could have been there.
“My best lap was actually in Q2 so there are little bits for me to improve on but I’m happy. It’s been a much smoother weekend and the car felt good straightaway from the start of FP1 and it hasn’t changed much since. We’ve been chipping away, fine tuning it, and it’s been a positive weekend.
“I think there’s been a step forward on my side too which hopefully we can take forwards.”
Albon will start the race on the soft Pirelli tyre on Sunday compared to the medium compound for Verstappen, but he hopes he’ll be able to make the different strategy work in his favour to move forward from his grid slot.
“We’re on a different strategy to Max and start tomorrow’s race on the soft compound,” said Albon. “The start is obviously important here with such a short run to Turn One so we’ll be looking for a good and clean getaway.
“After that, we’ll see but with the possibility of rain it should be an exciting race.”
Both Drivers “delivered a strong result for the Team” – Christian Horner
Christian Horner, the Team Principal of Red Bull, praised the teamwork of the two drivers during the Qualifying session as each were able to benefit from a tow from the other at some point in a bid to improve their time in the first sector.
Despite qualifying behind the two Mercedes cars, as expected, Horner is hopeful of both Verstappen and Albon challenging both Bottas and Lewis Hamilton on Sunday, although the level of tyre degradation and the uncertainty over the weather will make it a tricky race to predict.
“There was some great teamwork by the drivers today and they delivered a strong result for the Team,” said Horner. “Third and fifth, so close to the front row, with Max just a hundredth off Valtteri gives us confidence at a track we know you can overtake at.
“Mercedes have got that advantage in qualifying but to be so close on a long track that has not been a favourite of ours marks a good Saturday. We have a slightly different strategy between the two cars with Max starting on the medium tyre and Alex on the soft, but that gives us options and of course we don’t know what to expect from the Spa weather.
“There could be some mixed conditions and we don’t know what the tyre degradation will be like so there are always opportunities. It will be hard to attack the Mercedes but with Max we have a real fighter of a driver and it’s great to have Alex up there as well.”