Max Verstappen was very happy with his qualifying performance in Spa having expected to be much further behind Mercedes.
The Dutchman will settle into his familiar P3 spot on the grid for the Belgian Grand Prix having qualified 0.526s slower than pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton.
That’s comfortably the closest he has been to a Merc in qualifying trim this year, and considering the fact that Spa is a power-sensitive circuit, Verstappen was very pleased with his efforts.
“We expected to come here and, with the long straights around here, it’s never going to be the easiest for us,” he told reporters after qualifying.
“But I think we managed to find a good balance on the car straight away when we came here from FP1, so that helps.
“It’s been a positive weekend and I didn’t really have a lot to complain about.
“If I’m not mistaken, I think this is the closest we’ve been to Mercedes in qualifying on the track where we didn’t expect it to be like this, so yeah, very, very happy with that. I think qualifying went pretty smooth.”
Verstappen said he “ran out of energy a bit too early” on his last Q3 lap over team radio as he was left frustrated with the minimal gap to Bottas and a spot on the front row.
But, reflecting after the session he wasn’t sure that made much of a difference to his time.
“Of course you try to manage the energy throughout the lap, but I think probably it was the fastest way around the lap,” he explained.
“It’s just always, when you get low out of the last corner, you feel that the engine is not as accelerating as normal because you run out of that energy.
“But, you probably use it up somewhere else. So it’s always that feeling. Probably when I go back and look at the data, it’s still the fastest way, but it’s just a bit of an odd feeling sometimes.”
Race pace has been where Red Bull have excelled this season with Verstappen taking victory back at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.
However, he isn’t so sure that he can challenge Hamilton for the win at Spa with the Briton in a class of his own in qualifying.
“If you look at the lap time difference to Lewis, I don’t think we suddenly in the race can start fighting [with him],” he admitted.
“But you never know. And with the weather as well I hope that will it come into play and make it a little bit more difficult for everyone. Especially around this track, if there is a bit of weather around then it makes it a lot of fun.”
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Verstappen’s team-mate Alex Albon will line up for the race P5, though he was still 0.5s slower than the Dutchman.
“Once we were hooked up, actually Q2 was my best lap. A little bit disappointed in Q3. Just little bits but obviously [I was] a little bit of a lone wolf in the second run so it was a little bit harder but I’m happy,” he told Sky F1.
“Coming from FP1, the car has felt nice straight away and it hasn’t been changing too much. We were just chipping away at it and it was a positive day.”
Verstappen was able to set his fastest lap in Q2 on the medium tyres to secure those for the race start tomorrow.
Albon, however, needed the softs in order to make it through, so he hopes to make good use of them at the start since they will likely then degrade quickly as the race goes on.
“I didn’t really have the pace on the mediums to qualify through like that,” he admitted.
“Maybe we did actually, looking back at it. We are going to start on the softs. The starts are obviously important here. It is a short run but it is important to be clean and get through it and then after that, we will see. The deg is quite high here so it is not going to be easy.”