Mercedes ‘afraid’ Honda has one to two tenths in hand

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen Red Bull Honda sparks. Belgian August 2021

Max Verstappen driving the Red Bull Honda sending up a spray of sparks during Belgium practice. Belgian August 2021

Toto Wolff says he is “afraid” Honda were playing it safe at Spa on Friday and that the Red Bulls still have a “one to two tenths” in hand.

Max Verstappen set the pace in Friday’s second practice for the Belgian Grand Prix, the championship chaser clocking a 1:44.472 before crashing late in the session.

That time put him 0.041s up on Valtteri Bottas with Lewis Hamilton a further three-tenths down.

Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko reckons the gap between Verstappen and the Mercedes drivers could even bigger come Saturday’s qualifying.

“I think we turned the engine up less than Mercedes [on a Friday],” he told Auto Motor und Sport.

“There is still half a second in the engine.”

“But,” he added, “we don’t know what Mercedes is still up to, because they sometimes do more, and sometimes drive with less power.”

Over on the either side in the championship fight, Mercedes motorsport boss Wolff admits he is wary of what Red Bull and Honda could yet pull out in time for qualifying.

“I’m afraid that Honda has a bit more power up its sleeve than we do,” he said. “About one to two tenths.”

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Verstappen arrived at Spa chasing his first Belgian GP win while Hamilton, who leads the title race by eight points, is after his fifth.

The duo ran different set ups on Friday with Red Bull going with more downforce for Verstappen, while Hamilton ran a bigger rear wing.

The set up meant that while Verstappen was quicker overall, at top speed he lost 8.6 km/h to Hamilton.

But with rain forecast for the rest of the weekend, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner reckons they have gone down the right road.

“That could give us an advantage if it rains occasionally during the race,” he said.

Wolff added that it was all the wing, not the engine, that played a role in the difference in top speeds.

“The top speed difference has nothing to do with the engines,” he said, “but with the wing setting.”