Max Verstappen believes it took one of the best laps of his career to secure second place on the grid at the Russian Grand Prix.
Mercedes looked dominant throughout the three free practice sessions, with Valtteri Bottas fastest in both FP1 and FP2 before Lewis Hamilton set the pace in final practice. But Verstappen was able to split the pair as Hamilton took pole by over half a second, beating Bottas with his final attempt with a lap he rates as one of his finest qualifying efforts.
“It felt really good,” Verstappen said. “Just trying to find a right balance as I was actually struggling quite a bit through qualifying to nail the entry speeds. I was oversteering quite a lot, but step by step I think we were doing a better job.
“Q3 run one was a bit better but then the second run, made a few changes and that gave me a little bit more grip — and on this track you really need a lot of entry grip. So that was very satisfying and it was a really nice lap to drive. I mean, it’s not pole position but for me to be on the first row, I definitely didn’t expect that going in to qualifying.”
Verstappen also explained how Red Bull managed to pull off some smart strategy to ensure he starts on the medium compound tire when he looked to be under pressure in Q2.
“I wanted to start on mediums but of course the field is very, very close on lap time, so it was very hard. I did my very best to do the best lap I could on that tire but it was not easy, because I was already struggling for grip and then going onto a harder compound was more difficult to find that grip.
“Going in to that last corner after the red flag back on softs they told me ‘abort abort’ and of course the finish line is quite close after the last corner, but I’m happy we did it, and got through.”
Despite Hamilton starting on soft tires on pole position, Verstappen does not think a repeat of his Silverstone victory is likely as he still thinks Mercedes has a bigger advantage over Red Bull this weekend.
“I think first of all Friday was a bit messy as we were trying downforce levels and we never really had a perfect lap — there were always a few moments. I knew we were going to be more competitive than where we were. It’s a surprise to be on the front row, that’s for sure, but I honestly don’t expect it to be like Silverstone. We were a little more competitive in the long run there and also with the compounds, I don’t think it’s as big of an issue of as it was there, so I don’t expect the same to happen.
“I’m just happy with the improvements we made overnight. In the beginning of qualifying it looked quite tricky to be P3, but I think that was more because we didn’t really find a good balance initially because of the wind change. It seemed tricky to find the rear grip in some corners but Q3 we made a few changes and it seemed to work a bit better, so pleased with that.”