Max Verstappen felt Red Bull Racing improved the feeling of his RB16 throughout the day at the Circuit Paul Ricard on Friday, and they were rewarded by the Dutchman topping the timesheets in the afternoon.
The championship leader had finished behind the two Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team drivers in the morning session, with Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton showing that the German marque appeared to be back on the pace after difficult weekends in Monaco and Azerbaijan.
But Verstappen ensured he ended the day on top with a lap of 1:32.872 on the soft Pirelli tyre to edge out Bottas in the afternoon and give Red Bull confidence of a strong weekend around a track Mercedes have been unbeaten on since it returned to the Formula 1 calendar.
“I think overall it’s been a good end to the day and we improved quite well,” said Verstappen. “I wasn’t entirely happy in FP1 and even at the start of FP2 but on the second set of tyres this afternoon the car felt a lot better and a lot more connected.
“It’s still really difficult around here as the track is so open and it’s quite windy which means it isn’t always easy to nail the lap. The wind is also quite gusty so one lap it feels alright and the next lap it can increase, which means it’s not always easy to judge your mid-corner speeds, but everyone has to deal with the same thing.
“It’s difficult to say where we will be tomorrow and you never know what people will find overnight but the long runs also seemed decent so for sure I expect it to be very tight and it definitely won’t be easy.”
“It probably looks worse than it actually is on the time sheets” – Sergio Pérez
If you were to look at the timing screens, it would appear Red Bull’s second driver, Sergio Pérez, was well off the pace, but the Mexican felt he was heavily compromised during his best laps, meaning the one second gap to Verstappen is not realistic.
Pérez, who won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix two weeks ago, was fourth fastest in the morning session but was not able to get within a second of Verstappen in the afternoon as he finished twelfth.
However, he feels he is there or thereabouts when it comes to pace this weekend, and he is confident that Saturday will show the true pace of the second RB16B.
“I got a pretty bad run of traffic today so it probably looks worse than it actually is on the time sheets,” said Pérez. “We look to be there or thereabouts and Max had a good day on pace.
“We tried some changes during the sessions and so tonight we’ll look at them to see what worked and hopefully we can find some pace overnight so we are right in the mix tomorrow.
“Coming from Baku, obviously this is a very different track but we’re continuing the good momentum, the understanding of the car is getting better and there are plenty of positives to take from today.”