Max Verstappen says he and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing can take the fight to the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team during Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix, regardless of the conditions that face them at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve.
The Dutchman was unable to get ahead of either Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas during Saturday’s Qualifying session at Portimão but he will start third on the grid, and from there he feels he has a chance to fight with the Mercedes duo whether it’s wet or dry.
Verstappen says he has been struggling to get the tyres in their optimum working window this weekend on the newly resurfaced track in the Algarve, but he will be pushing as hard as he can to try and take his second victory of the season on Sunday.
“I’m happy with qualifying, my Q3 lap was pretty decent and third is a good starting position,” said Verstappen. “This weekend we have seen the new tarmac make it quite difficult to get the tyres in the right window, which was the same for everyone, so it was a bit hit and miss but we are not too far behind Mercedes and there’s a lot to play for tomorrow.
“I think the start is going to be important as I’m on the soft tyre while the others around me are on the medium but nobody has a lot of information about how the tyres are going to hold up.
“We’ll just feel our way into the race and push hard as always and sometimes a bit of unpredictability from the tyres makes things more interesting. If it is also windy and raining then it will be even more of an unknown but I hope that whatever the conditions we can be in a good position to push Mercedes tomorrow.”
“I would have liked to be further up there but we can work from P6” – Alexander Albon
Team-mate Alexander Albon will start sixth but was more than half a second away from Verstappen’s best time in Q3, although the Thai driver believes he can move forward on race day to challenge the top three.
Albon felt he could have gone quicker had to gone for two push laps on his final run rather than one, and its this where he feels he could at least have joined Verstappen on the second row of the grid.
The under-pressure twenty-four-year-old says it is all to play for on Sunday afternoon, particularly on a new track to Formula 1 and with no previous data to rely on. He also says no one has been able to do a proper long run this weekend, so there is plenty of unknowns to face when the lights go out.
“I would have liked to be further up there but we can work from P6,” said Albon. “I was pretty happy with my lap but the hardest thing for us was switching the tyres on as the track has been weird all weekend with the new surface and changing wind conditions.
“In Q3 we decided to run out of sync compared to everyone else and I think I would’ve gone quicker with one more push lap on the medium tyre. We opted to change to the soft for the final run which is a very different compound in terms of how you maximise it so you have to readjust and change your driving style which does affect your rhythm slightly.
“The weather is mixed for tomorrow and the rain is meant to be coming, so anything can happen. It’s a long run to turn one and no one has really completed a proper long run yet so we’ll discover as we go along and make the most of the opportunities.”
“I think we can be pleased with third and sixth” – Christian Horner
Christian Horner, the Team Principal at Red Bull, says the team can be pleased with qualifying third and sixth in Portimão, particularly as they went into the session with a lot of questions about track evolution and tyre performance.
Horner felt Verstappen was unlucky not to at least split the two Mercedes drivers, while he was also happy to see Albon progress well throughout the day and respond to the challenging conditions.
He believes both drivers are in a position to challenge for big points on Sunday afternoon regardless of the weather conditions that may hit the track.
“I think we can be pleased with third and sixth with Max and Alex today in what turned out to be an unusual qualifying session with regards to track conditions,” said Horner. “Heading into qualifying there were many unknowns at this new circuit in terms of tyre performance and track evolution but both drivers showed good pace throughout and Max was unlucky to just miss out on splitting the Mercedes, who opted to qualify on the medium tyre.
“Alex also progressed well throughout each session and with alternating tyre strategy between runs in Q3 he did well to respond and adapt to the changing conditions to secure sixth on the grid.
“I think tomorrow’s race will be very interesting with the possibility of inclement weather and difference in tyre strategies from those around us but I’m confident both drivers can progress well and produce a good result for the Team.”