Verstappen: ‘I don’t think we can challenge Mercedes’

Jamie Woodhouse
Max Verstappen [Red Bull] and Lewis Hamilton [Mercedes] in the pit lane at the Italian GP. September 2021.

Max Verstappen [Red Bull] and Lewis Hamilton [Mercedes] drive down the pit lane at the Italian Grand Prix. September 2021.

Max Verstappen does not believe he can realistically deny Mercedes pole when they take to the track for sprint qualifying at Monza.

The Italian Grand Prix weekend at Monza marks the second outing of this new format which Formula 1 is trialling for 2021, meaning the traditional qualifying format was brought forward to Friday.

The high-speed Monza track was expected to suit Mercedes, and that is how it turned out with Bottas topping the session, and thus securing P1 on the grid for Saturday’s sprint.

Verstappen found a chunk of time in Q3, meaning he was able to secure P3, a position which he ultimately is happy with.

“Of course it wasn’t the best, but we also know that this track isn’t our best track,” he told Sky F1.

“Just because of the long straights, of course you try to trim it with the downforce.

“Third is good, I was actually quite happy when I heard that I was in third, because in FP1 we were struggling a bit with balance, but I think we recovered quite well.

“It would have been unrealistic to hope for more, so I think for us third was good.”

That was one-lap pace though, for sprint qualifying it will be back into racing mode, though even then Verstappen believes the best he can do is narrow the gap to Mercedes.

“Maybe a bit closer, but I don’t think we can challenge them,” he said of the prospect of reeling Mercedes in come sprint qualifying.

“But you never know what happens in a race, so we just try to keep the pressure on.”

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A possible boost for Red Bull is the fact that Bottas will start Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix from the back, having taken a fourth power unit of the season.

That is Sunday though, and so Verstappen was not ready to accept that as a boost for sprint qualifying.

“Let’s see, still before that race a lot of things can happen,” he said.

“So we need to get through that clean, it’s not like Zandvoort, there we were really quick, here we just need to maximise everything.”