Max Verstappen said he was pleased Red Bull’s best qualifying performance of the season after he was within four-tenths of Lewis Hamilton’s pole-position lap for the Tuscan Grand Prix.
The Dutchman said he was impressed by his car’s straight-line speed on the fast, challenging and spectacular Ferrari-owned Mugello circuit in the Tuscan hills.
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Verstappen qualified third behind series leader Hamilton and the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. It was not Verstappen’s best position of the year, but his best performance in lap times.
“We did a very good job setting up the car for this weekend compared to some other weekends where we have been a bit further away, where I was not entirely happy with the car,” said Verstappen.
“So I think we really more or less maximised so far what we could do this weekend. We started straight away with a positive balance in the car.
“Maybe the track characteristic helped as well, a little bit. We seem to be a bit better on higher downforce tracks with this car. So I think that might explain it.”
He added that his car’s strength through two flat-out sections of the final sector had given him belief.
“For once we have quite decent top speed this year — so I think that’s quite good around here, but it won’t be easy to pass,” Verstappen said. “At least the track, the last few corners, they’re a bit wide and long so you can do a few different lines.
“But it’s all going to anyway depend on, firstly, if you have the pace to follow and second, of course, tyre degradation.”
Verstappen’s teammate Alex Albon recovered from a rough trot to qualify fourth fastest, ensuring both Red Bull cars start in the top-four for the first time since the season-opener.
The positive development comes after Hamilton suggested last month Red Bull was missing Daniel Ricciardo — who quit at the end of 2018 — because Verstappen was being forced to carry too much of the load on his own shoulders without enough help from Albon.
But Red Bull boss Christian Horner was full of praise for Albon after he bounced into the second row of the grid.
“It’s great that both the guys have qualified up there, particularly for Alex,” Horner said. “It’s been tricky for him because actually the last couple of weeks, both Spa and Monza, he has been getting closer and closer.
“He’s put a good weekend together here so far, a good qualifying, and we know he can race well. So hopefully he’ll be able to go with that pack and then that does give you options. Mercedes can’t cover everything.”
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Red Bull was on fire in the Tuscan hills.Source:Getty Images
HAMILTON CHALLENGED BY ‘PHENOMENAL’ TRACK
Hamilton said he is braced for one of the most demanding races of his career on Sunday when he starts from his seventh pole of the season.
The runaway series leader and six-time world champion warned of the challenge ahead as former racer Mark Webber, now a television commentator, said the spectacular Ferrari-owned Mugello circuit was so fast that the drivers’ “necks are going to snap in half”.
The Australian may have been jesting, but all of the drivers made clear how physically exhausting the circuit was.
“We are all athletes and we train, but this track is incredibly physical and it is not at all easy to go through that fast section,” said Hamilton. “I’ve found that I am breathing heavier because there is so much focus and there is no room for error.
“The whole body is completely tense and every muscle is fully engaged. We don’t get to the end of a lap with a low heart rate. This track is phenomenal, but it is incredibly challenging, too.”
Hamilton beat Mercedes teammate Bottas to secure a record-extending 95th pole position.
The drivers will endure high levels of g-force on each lap with everyone enduring 5g or more in seven of the 15 corners of a track hosting its first F1 grand prix.
Hamilton said he has not learned the circuit as quickly as he expected. “Normally I tend to think and in my past I always felt that one of my strengths is learning a circuit quite quickly, but for this one we went on the simulator, which I never do, and I don’t feel like I benefited,” he said.
“So getting here (pole position) was a lot of work. The pressure was incredibly high. Going out there, doing laps, I was struggling to get to the limit, find the limit in certain sectors.
“Valtteri was miles ahead really in some of those areas so the pressure was higher than ever because if I hadn’t done the work then I wouldn’t have got the result.”
Lewis Hamilton faces a stiff challenge on the demanding circuit.Source:AFP
Sergio Perez, who faces a one-place grid penalty for his brush with Kimi Raikkonen on Friday, qualified sixth ahead of his Racing Point teammate Lance Stroll, but will cop a one-place grid penalty for his brush with Kimi Raikkonen in practice.
Daniel Ricciardo was eighth fastest in his Renault, ahead of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and comrade Esteban Ocon.
On a glorious day in the Tuscan hills, the air temperature was 29C and the track 46 as Q1 began with Bottas topping Hamilton by almost three-tenths, leaving Verstappen adrift by half a second in third.
Perez was fifth behind Albon with Leclerc in sixth while, in the drop zone, Vettel scrambled through to Q2 in his Ferrari to dump last Sunday’s Monza winner Pierre Gasly into 16th.
That meant the Frenchman was eliminated along with Antonio Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo, the two Williams of George Russell and Nicholas Latifi and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen.
Lando Norris then missed out on the top 10 shootout along with Daniil Kvyat of Alpha Tauri, Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo, Vettel and Romain Grosjean of Haas.
THE GRID — TOP 10
1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
3. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
4. Alexander Albon (Red Bull)
5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
6. Lance Stroll (Racing Point)
7. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
8. Daniel Ricciardo (Renault)
9. Carlos Sainz Jr (McLaren)
10. Esteban Ocon (Renault)
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