Max Verstappen was fastest in Friday afternoon’s free practice session at Spa-Francorchamps, but he still expects the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team to take pole position on Saturday.
The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver set a best time of 1:43.744 to edge out former team-mate Daniel Ricciardo in the afternoon session, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were only third and sixth respectively.
However, Verstappen expects Mercedes to turn up the wick on Saturday and take their customary position at the front of the field, although he feels closer to them than usual.
“The car seems to be handling well, it is of course early days but from our side it was a positive Friday and overall, I’m pretty happy,” said Verstappen. “A racing car is never perfect, and you always try to find things on the car and with the tyre prep that you can improve, so we will be looking at that tonight.
“Personally, I think Mercedes are still struggling a bit with the balance and I expect them to be stronger tomorrow. You can see already that they are very competitive on the long runs and I don’t think I will be fighting them for pole because we can’t really follow when they turn it up in qualifying.
“If we can at least be a bit closer that would be good ahead of the race.”
Verstappen said it was important to get some decent running in dry conditions, even if the weather predictions indicate a high chance of rain across the rest of the weekend. However, he feels Red Bull are in a reasonable place to compete at the sharp end of the grid whatever the conditions.
“It was important to get some decent dry running today, even if the conditions change over the weekend, so we can find a good baseline,” added the Dutchman.
“It’s never easy around Spa to find the perfect downforce level and you can see everyone trying different things, but I think we are in a reasonable place and we will find out tomorrow exactly where that puts us.”
‘Promising Day’ for Albon at Venue of First Red Bull Race
Team-mate Alexander Albon felt confident after Friday’s running, with the Thai driver ending inside the top six in both sessions. He ended sixth in the morning session before improving to fourth in the afternoon, less than four-tenths away from Verstappen.
Albon is still seeking his first podium finish of 2020 heading into the seventh round of the season, but after the two practice sessions at Spa-Francorchamps, he felt he had a better handle on his RB16 than in previous rounds, which made for a better day for the Thai driver.
“It’s been a promising day and I felt good with the car from the very first lap,” said Albon. “It felt strong and the car is gelling better.
“The corner balance feels good and so I’m happy things are progressing the right way.”
Albon made his first race appearance with Red Bull at Spa-Francorchamps twelve months ago after switching positions with Pierre Gasly and scored good points despite starting at the back of the grid.
He says the experience of last year was helping him on Friday, and although the gaps at the front are very small, he has the confidence that he can do well this weekend.
“I think it’s actually helped a lot having that experience in the car from my first race with the team here last year as coming into this weekend I knew what we were going to do, what worked at this track and what didn’t – having that experience is really beneficial,” said Albon.
“It’s hard to say what everyone else is doing as it’s practice and people are running different engine modes and fuel but you can see some people are targeting straight line speed more than others so let’s see how tomorrow plays out.
“The times are surprisingly close and so we’ll continue to fine tune the car and dial out what we can but it will be tight tomorrow.”