For Max Verstappen, extending his World Championship lead over Lewis Hamilton in sprint qualifying at Monza was not what he expected.
Mercedes had carried a pace advantage throughout practice on Friday at the Italian Grand Prix while Red Bull and Verstappen struggled. But a mega Q3 lap from Verstappen, aided by a tow from his team-mate Sergio Perez, ensured he started sprint qualifying from P3.
With Mercedes locking out the front row, Verstappen was an outsider for the sprint but a poor start for Hamilton saw him drop to P5, the position he would finish after failing to find a way back past the McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris.
Verstappen, meanwhile, took a comfortable P2, scoring two extra points to extend his lead over Hamilton at the top of the Drivers’ Championship to five points.
It was a huge bonus for Verstappen, who before sprint qualifying had expected to lose ground to his title rival.
“I expected we would lose points on Saturday, I have increased the lead a little,” he told De Telegraaf.
“Every little bit helps, of course. But it can also quickly turn around. I know all about that.”
Verstappen inherited pole position for the Italian Grand Prix from Valtteri Bottas who, despite winning sprint qualifying, drops to the back due to an engine penalty.
And Verstappen made it clear it had not been possible to catch the Finn during the sprint.
“You can see here that Mercedes are clearly faster than us, given their engine advantage,” said Verstappen.
“In the sprint race I was able to stay reasonably close to Valtteri, but I didn’t have the pace to really attack him.
“When he had to push after a good lap of mine, he could easily parry it. I don’t feel there was ever more than a second place in the race.”
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Verstappen has another golden opportunity to strike against Hamilton in the race, starting from pole as Hamilton lines up P4.
That said, Verstappen does not expect the race to be “straightforward” for him in any way.
“I don’t expect it to be a straightforward and easy race – Valtteri coming from the back, Lewis P4, they have a lot of pace, so we’ll see what we can do against them,” he said.