Max Verstappen drops engine mode hint following surprise Bahrain practice

Jamie Woodhouse
Red Bull's Max Verstappen looks over his shoulder in Bahrain.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, looks over shoulder.

Max Verstappen suggested some rivals turned up their engines before Red Bull in Bahrain, his “I’m not too worried about the gap to P1” assessment perhaps a nod to Mercedes after his P6 finish in FP2.

Verstappen is the pick of the F1 paddock to claim his fourth successive World Championship at the wheel of the Red Bull RB20 in 2024, but what went down in Thursday practice at the Bahrain Grand Prix season-opener has generated a great deal of intrigue.

Under the floodlights and more representative conditions of FP2, it was Mercedes on top, Lewis Hamilton heading a one-two, while Verstappen was forced to settle for P6, just under half a second down on Hamilton.

Max Verstappen not sweating gap to Lewis Hamilton

Were Red Bull sandbagging, or are they truly on the back foot heading into qualifying? The truth seems to lay closely to the former as Verstappen is not feeling concerned, hinting engine modes go a long way to explaining this early deficit to the leading pace.

“I think it was not too bad,” Verstappen told Sky F1. “I think it’s very close, maybe some people around us already turned up the engine a bit in terms of top speed.

“But, we just focus on ourselves and I think from today there were a few little balance issues from front or rear, but nothing big.

“It’s just about trying to find that sweet spot and especially around here with the rough tarmac, once you get into that sweet spot you just pick up time and that’s what we’ll try to focus on a little bit more for tomorrow.

“I mean, I don’t say everyone around us did that [turned up the engines], but a few did. So I’m not too worried about the gap to P1 for example.

“But it’s going to be very close I think in qualifying, so that’s going to be very nice and then the long run I was a bit happier about that, but again also there are a few little things that we can do better.” recommends

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Asked if he feels he is close to getting that RB20 into said sweet spot, Verstappen replied: “Yeah, it’s not too far away. It’s just trying to get into it and then feel a little bit happier with the car.

“But at the end of the day, you also just want to focus a bit on the long run because that’s where the car really needs to work.

“Of course, qualifying is important, but we need to make sure that the car is in good shape for the race.”

And on race day is where Verstappen generally excels, the Dutchman heading into F1 2024 with the goal of building on his winning streak, which has stood at seven in a row since his victory in the 2023 season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

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