Max Verstappen is hopeful of challenging Mercedes in the Austrian Grand Prix but says Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were on a different level during qualifying.
Mercedes had looked quickest throughout practice but Red Bull showed closer performance in FP3 and Verstappen was quickest in the first part of qualifying to increase hopes of a battle for pole position. Once the power units were turned up to full qualifying modes, though, Mercedes pulled clear and Bottas bettered Hamilton by 0.012s, while Verstappen was over half a second further back.
“I’m happy first of all to be P3 but also we have a different starting tire,” Verstappen said. “It’s going to be interesting; it’s going to be quite a bit warmer tomorrow, so I hope that’s going to play in our advantage. Clearly today Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Let’s see how we can do tomorrow.”
Although the gap is pretty daunting on a short track that is barely more than a minute in terms of laptime, Verstappen believes there was more performance in his car with a better setup.
“I was not entirely happy with the balance. Some corners were good, some were not… but still I think half a second is quite a decent gap. What can you say about it? We just need to work harder and try to close that.
“I’m happy that in Q2 I could squeeze out a lap on the medium tire, so we’re starting with that. Let’s see. We’ve never been the quickest over one lap on this track and hopefully in the race it will come a bit closer. But, yeah, I don’t know. Still, best of the rest — it’s a good start to the season and now we just have to work to close that gap.”
The Red Bull looked particularly strong on the medium tire during the high-fuel runs on Friday, and Verstappen says he can afford to be aggressive as the only driver in the top 10 starting on that compound.
“Last year we were also a little off in qualifying so I expect we are a bit better in the race. Now, I’m the only one on a different tire in the top 10, so I’m just looking forward to it. We have nothing to lose, so I’ll try to make it as difficult as possible for them.”