Nico Hulkenberg insists Renault is not going to be fighting with Mercedes and Ferrari in the Mexican Grand Prix despite being best of the rest behind Red Bull during Friday practice.
Red Bull dominated both Friday sessions with Max Verstappen leading a one-two, with the rest of the field over a second behind. However, it was Carlos Sainz who finished third quickest on both occasions with Hulkenberg fourth in FP1 and fifth in FP2, although the German warns not to expect that form to continue into Saturday and Sunday.
“I think it’s been a good Friday,” Hulkenberg said. “If you look at the time sheets, we seem to be competitive from the morning, which is obviously nice. I wouldn’t get too overexcited; it’s only Friday, I’m sure the others have had a few problems today, and when they sort that out, they will come back.
“As far as we’re concerned, yeah, the car felt alright. Still more work to do, still not very happy with the balance, but the usual Friday work really.
“Just to achieve our maximum, to get the best out of our package, that is really the target. I don’t believe that we can beat or compete with Ferrari or Mercedes. I struggle to believe because usually the gap has been so big, I don’t know why they were off the pace today. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.”
Sainz described Friday’s performance as surprisingly good, but suggests Renault is no stronger compared to its usual competitors than in previous races.
“The team is working hard, the team is working very well in this part of the season to secure that fourth in the standings,” Sainz said. “But I think it’s a bit misleading, those time sheets, because you see Force India, you see Toro Rosso, you see Sauber particularly close to us still, half a tenth, one tenth, but then you see Ferrari and Mercedes are nowhere.
“It’s very weird how in one weekend, in the space of four days, they go from being two seconds quicker a lap to being together with us.
“I think I would be a bit naïve to think tomorrow we’re going to be third on the grid. I’m always optimistic and I’m always going to try my best, but I think they had issues today. They were struggling also in the long runs. I was following them and they didn’t look comfortable.
“The only thing for me to think is that tomorrow things are going to turn. Maybe not as much — maybe we can still be half a second away from them instead of one second and a half, but it would surprise me to be ahead of them for sure.”