Max Verstappen will start from fifth place in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, and the teenager said that it the team couldn’t have expected any more.
The Dutch driver will start behind two rows dominated by drivers from Mercedes and Ferrari. He said that he felt this was a true reflection of Red Bull’s current form under 2017’s new rules.
“Of course not good enough,” he said after qualifying. “But after a troubled weekend and basically I saw it coming after winter testing – this is the best we could do.”
Asked by Sky Sports F1 why he felt that the team couldn’t have done any better on the day, Verstappen identified car set-up as an issue.
“Tricky balance in the car. All the time, when we’re changing something it changes quite a lot in terms of understeer and oversteer.”
But set-up wasn’t the only problem apparently holding Red Bull back at the start of the season.
“Basically not having the pace. Of course we’re still down on power but also in terms of grip levels we’re not the same as Ferrari and Mercedes yet.”
He was clear on what he needed when the lights went out in Melbourne tomorrow.
“Just a clean start. We don’t have the pace to challenge the Ferraris and Mercedes. I’m realistic. Probably a very lonely race, because behind me is also quite a big gap.”
However Verstappen did give a big thumbs up to the this year’s cars – at least to a point.
“In terms of driving, yes,” he replied when asked if the new tyre and downforce regulations were going in the right direction for Formula 1.
“It’s a lot faster and a lot more enjoyable, especially in qualifying when you take out the fuel. In the high speed corners it’s hooked, it’s really good.
“But in terms of racing I think it will be more boring. Tomorrow, whoever takes first in turn one will win the race.”
Verstappen added that he felt the new rules had contributed to the accident suffered by his team mate Daniel Ricciardo in Q3.
“The problem [for Ricciardo] is that the tyres are quite wide in the rear now, and as soon as you lose it it’s really difficult to catch it. Just because they are that wide, and you lose a lot of grip suddenly.
“It’s what I experienced in [pre-season testing in] Barcelona when you have a moment,” he added. “But normally when you just have a normal balance in the car and you don’t have an oversteer they’re actually easier to drive.”
Daniel Ricciardo’s ambitions of shining on home turf were blown apart when the Red Bull driver was caught out by his car’s reaction and subsequent crash into the barriers.
Ricciardo had embarked on his first flying lap in Q3 when his unforgiving RB13 snapped as he rounded Turn 14, sending the Aussie backwards into the barriers and inflicting damage to the rear and right corner of his car.
The mishap cost the Honey Badger a chance to fight for a spot at the upper end of the grid for his home race, leaving him to start tomorrow’s race from tenth.
“It happened quickly, I could feel the rear was on the edge, it was starting to come around,” he said.
“I tried to catch it but it came around. As the result of more downforce and more grip, when you lose it it’s a lot more violent and aggressive – so it caught me out.
“There is still a bit to learn and don’t tend to find myself in the barriers much, so it’s a bit of an odd sight to see me in to the barrier.
“The cars have more grip, which makes them stick to the track more – but when it goes wrong they bite a bit harder.
“They are new beasts. I am positive about it – I like the cars.”
Ricciardo said he felt bad for imposing an extra workload on his Red Bull crew. The additional labor could imply a gearbox change if damage warrants, which would in turn entail a grid penalty for the Aussie, sending at the tail end of the field.
“I created a bit more work for myself and unfortunately for the mechanics,” he added.
“I feel for them, I know they have had a long weekend, tough getting cars prepared. We will turn it into a bit of aggro tomorrow and hopefully buy them a few stubbies after a better result than today.”
Valtteri Bottas got his Mercedes career off to a good start after taking third place on the grid for the Australian Grand Prix.
The Finn’s previous best grid position at Albert Park Circuit had been 15th place, making this an auspicious start to his season.
Not that you’d notice. He certainly didn’t sound all that thrilled by the achievement when talking with the media afterwards.
“Well, you know, third position is not ideal. I think in general I’m not happy with the result,” he sighed.
“Myself, I didn’t quite get any really perfect laps in, so not that satisfied.
“But what I am really happy about – I’m proud about, like Lewis said – is what the team have done again have done with this car.”
Bottas only joined the team from Williams in January. He was a late replacement for Nico Rosberg, who shocked the world of motorsport with his retirement five days after winning the 2016 title.
That means the new 2017 Mercedes car was developed with a different driver than Bottas in mind. Not that it seems to have been any great setback in pre-season testing and now the race weekend.
“I only saw a very small part of the preparation with the new car in the new era of Formula 1. It’s really nice to see that all the work has paid off.
“We’re fighting at the very front. It seems to be very close this year, at least here.”
Bottas was optimistic that Mercedes would be able to successfully see off its rivals on Sunday.
“Tomorrow is the day that matters. It seems like in the race starts we’ve been quite strong. Hopefully we can keep that form like we’ve had it in practice and have a nice and clean race. And get some points!”