Max Verstappen admitted that he didn’t expect to have been a threat to Mercedes during qualifying for the Tuscan Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver ended the final practice session within a tenth of both Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, and although he wasn’t able to beat either to the first row come qualifying, he remained a threat to the Silver Arrows throughout.
0.365s would be the final gap in Q3 between Verstappen and Hamilton on pole, the closest he has been to a Mercedes in qualifying all season.
And it seems Verstappen was as surprised as anyone after he admitted that he hadn’t gone into the session with ambitions of competing with the dominant Mercs.
“I personally never really expected to fight them in qualifying but I think overall so far this weekend it has been really promising,” he told Sky F1.
“I think we bounced back well from Monza where it was tricky, so I think in the end to be third in qualifying we can be very happy with that.”
Asked how the strong winds around Mugello affected qualifying, Verstappen said: “To be honest I think it picked up a little bit in Q3.
“Because my first lap was not amazing and then I think the second run lap time-wise a little better, but I think the track was not the same because of the wind.
“These cars are really tricky anyway with the wind.
“The track is amazing to drive, in qualifying it was really something special.”
— Aston Martin Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) September 12, 2020
Verstappen’s team-mate Alex Albon matched his best qualifying performance of the season and will start from P4.
But the British-Thai driver said he was one of those who suffered on their second Q3 run when Esteban Ocon brought out the yellow flags with a spin in Sector 1.
“You always feel like you can do better from the session before, I’d say my first run in Q3 was okay, and then yeah there was a yellow car in the way, but it’s P4 still and I’m happy with that. It’s going in the right direction,” he said.
“It’s a long run into Turn 1, we haven’t been the greatest off the line, overtaking is going to be hard here.
“But degradation is looking pretty good, and I think that last corner isn’t actually that bad to follow [other cars]. It’s not like Barcelona where it’s a traffic jam, waiting for someone to leave the chicane.
“Here I can find a line, get some clear air and stay close.”