Max Verstappen concedes Aston Martin are ‘quick’ as he looks to master RB19

Jamie Woodhouse
Max Verstappen in the media pen. Bahrain February 2023.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in the media pen after pre-season testing. Bahrain February 2023.

Max Verstappen believes the Red Bull RB19 is coming back in the “right direction” after a tricky start to the Bahrain GP race weekend, where Aston Martin continue to impress.

Friday practice ahead of the 2023 season-opening Bahrain GP got off to a very positive start for Red Bull as Sergio Perez comfortably topped FP1, but come the second session, as representative conditions under the lights set in, it was Aston Martin on top courtesy of Fernando Alonso, who enjoyed an advantage nearing two-tenths over Red Bull.

Alonso is not thinking about turning this into a pole position on Saturday, though Verstappen does believe that the AMR23 has genuine pace, although he was already well aware of this after the three-day Bahrain pre-season test.

“They’re quick,” he said of Aston Martin. “But you could see that already in testing that they were very competitive, so yeah, they had a great day.

“For us, still a bit of work to do – I mean we know we have a very competitive car. It’s just now [about] putting all the pieces together.”

Verstappen acknowledged that FP1 was a “really bad” session for him as he lagged six-tenths behind team-mate Perez, though the situation improved through FP2, with the RB19’s long-run pace proving to be a positive surprise for the reigning World Champion.

“FP1 was really bad, just couldn’t get a balance,” said Verstappen, “which was a bit odd because in testing whatever we tried, okay, some things were maybe not amazing, but not that far out.

“So a few things to understand, even the start of FP2 was a bit difficult, but then I think for the final run, even not really having a good reference and confidence up until then in the car, the lap was not too bad in the short run. And also the car felt a bit more connected.

“And then I think the long run, with all the changes we made, I was quite surprised that it was the pace we had, and overall the car is not too bad in the long run, just need to find my rhythm again with the car and just the way the car is driving from short run to long run.

“Difficult start to the day, but I think we went back into the right direction and I think it’s looking much better now.

“I think if I feel happy in the car again and I can push like I want to push in the car on one lap, then for sure we are very fast – but it’s also of course making sure that the car doesn’t fall out of the window for the long run.” recommends

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Verstappen’s Red Bull team-mate Perez agreed that Aston Martin’s strong showing came as no surprise, and believes the fight for pole will involve both teams, plus Ferrari, and will come down to who hooks up that best Q3 lap.

“We knew it from testing that they [Aston Martin] were going to be fairly strong, that they were going to be competitive, no surprises to be honest,” said Perez. “I think it just confirms how strong they are.

“It was quite tricky out there – conditions are fairly similar to the test but the temperature from morning to afternoon changes quite a lot and the only representative session was this afternoon.

“We’ve got some work to do over one lap which will automatically put us in better shape for the long run. We explored the car a bit today, so I think we generally have a good idea on which direction to go for tomorrow.

“I think everything is close at the top – I think certainly the Astons, the Ferraris, I think it’s going to go down to who puts the best lap down tomorrow and who has the best race pace on Sunday.”

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher