Max Verstappen was confident of claiming pole position in Portimao…until he encountered Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin.
Qualifying for the Portuguese Grand Prix brought an interesting strategic duel between Mercedes and Red Bull. The medium tyres were favouring Mercedes as Red Bull struggled to find an answer on the same compound, so their hopes were very much resting on the softs.
During the first Q3 runs, Verstappen set a 1:18.209, the fastest time of the session, but had it chalked off for breaching track limits.
But as the Dutchman set about achieving that time legitimately with his final lap, he encountered traffic in the form of Vettel – leading to a sweary rant over team radio with Verstappen believing the four-time former World Champion had contributed heavily to his 1:18.7 that left him P3 on the grid.
After returning to the paddock, Verstappen’s views had not changed one bit.
“I thought I can do that lap again so I go out, I was within a tenth of the lap,” he explained.
“Then in the last sector, I lost all my lap time with an Aston Martin in front, and then taking my tow on the line as well.
“So yeah, messy, but it is what it is.”
After Friday practice, Verstappen was critical of the Portimao tarmac and its lap of grip, and the second day of action did not bring him any satisfaction either.
“I didn’t enjoy one single lap this weekend, just because of the state of the track,” he said.
“The layout is amazing but the grip we are experiencing, I don’t think it’s nice. I know it’s the same for everyone but for me personally, it’s not enjoyable to drive.
“I started off in qualifying really slow, I had no balance in the car. We slowly got to a point where I was happier, but I was basically compromising one thing and then losing a bit of performance in the other thing. It was just not nice.
“Then I had my little moment in Turn 4 in the first run in Q3. At the end, showed that was the fastest lap.
“It just showed it was a really difficult session to get any kind of grip in it because that corner is flat and suddenly out of the blue, the car just snapped on me and I ran a bit wide.”
Verstappen will be joined on the second row by his Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.
And despite ending up half a second adrift of the Mercedes’ times, Perez is expecting a “tight” battle in Sunday’s race.
“It was very tricky out there. I just about matched my FP1 time in Q3, so as usual it’s a very tricky track for warm-up. It’s all about the tyres and getting them to the right temperature,” he explained.
“I was not very happy with the balance, I struggled a lot. It’s a bit of a shame that we were not able to qualify a bit higher, but I think we are in a good position for the race. It will be a tight battle, so looking forward to it.
“It will be really close between us [and Mercedes]. Hopefully we are able to pull something nice and beat them in the race.”