Despite topping the FP2 timesheets, Max Verstappen thinks he may be fighting Racing Point rather than vying for pole position with Mercedes in Belgian Grand Prix qualifying.
The Dutchman was impressively quick in both Friday practice sessions at Spa-Francorchamps, ending FP1 in third position just 0.081sec behind fastest man Valtteri Bottas and then outpacing everyone in FP2.
But the Red Bull driver refused to accept his performance was a signal that he will challenge the Mercedes duo for pole position on Saturday – instead fearing his usual status of ‘best of the rest’ will be threatened by the speedy Racing Points of Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll.
“I personally think Mercedes are still struggling a bit with the balance. I expect them to be stronger tomorrow,” said Verstappen after FP2 in which Hamilton and birthday boy Bottas – 31 on Friday – ended up P3 and P6 respectively.
“You could see in the long runs they are very competitive.
“I’m not expecting to fight for pole position but if we can be a bit closer, that would be good. I think the Racing Points will be very close, so it will be tricky with them in qualifying. But then in the race it should be all right.
“The car seemed to handle well. It’s early days but from our side it’s a good start. There are still some things to work on, of course, for tomorrow but overall I’m pretty happy.
“A racing car is never perfect, you always try to find things where you can improve so we’ll look into that, also with tyre prep and everything, and then we’ll see.”
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Although the weather forecast has improved over the course of the week, there is still a strong chance of rain on Sunday – and Verstappen was pleased it has not arrived already.
“For us it was important to run in the dry,” he added. “If it rains it rains, it’s the same for everyone. From the start we were pretty happy and that (dry running) helps to work on a few other things with the car.”
There was also encouragement for Verstappen’s team-mate Alex Albon, who has been enduring a difficult season but showed his potential by taking P4 in FP2.
“From the very first lap the car felt strong,” said the London-born Thai driver. “We brought some (new) things here this weekend and they are making the car gel a bit better. I’m happy that it’s progressing the right way.”