Max Verstappen says the track surface at Portimao makes the track “not really enjoyable to drive,” but Red Bull thinks it is in the mix for pole position at the Portuguese Grand Prix.
A feature of last year’s race at Portimao was a low-grip track surface that led to a chaotic opening few laps after light rain, with Carlos Sainz taking the lead and Kimi Raikkonen climbing 10 positions in 15 corners. After finishing both Friday practice sessions in second place, Verstappen said it is a similar issue this year.
“It was all right, just very tricky out there with the tarmac again,” Verstappen said. “It’s super slippery. I know it’s the same for everyone but it’s not really enjoyable to drive.
“Very similar (to last year), and of course the tires have changed and we’ve lost a bit of grip from the car compared to last year, but it’s very tricky out there. It’s a shame, because it’s all about tire prep, tire temperature, and it shouldn’t be like that. But it’s the same for everyone.”
While Verstappen feels Red Bull is close to Mercedes but has work to do, Sergio Perez is more confident despite admitting the lack of grip made new parts hard to evaluate.
“It’s basically very similar to where we were last year tarmac-wise,” Perez said. “Getting the tires to work in these conditions is not easy, so I think the main focus will be to understand what’s going on with the tires. The pace with the mediums was good, but when we went on to the softs we didn’t find any lap time, (so) we have to analyze what went wrong on that set and hopefully sort it out for qualifying.
“It’s very difficult on track, very hard to feel anything around here. Everything just feels a bit worse, a bit less grip overall, so very hard to compare (upgrades).
“I think we have pretty good pace so definitely we should be in the mix tomorrow to fight for pole.”
Lewis Hamilton agrees with the Red Bull driver’s assessment, expecting a close battle after also finding life difficult due to the lack of grip.
“I think everyone looked like they were struggling with their balance out there today, so it’s difficult to say whether or not it’s the car or it’s the wind or the track, but it’s definitely been a real challenge today to keep the car on track,” Hamilton said.
“We came here last year and the tire was too hard, and come here again and the same tire (compound choices), so it’s pretty much… they’re harder this year, so it feels like we’ve come with the too-hard compound, in my opinion. It should have been mid-range. But everyone’s on the same ones, so we’ll get through it somehow.
“I think it’s going to be close run — it looks like we’re close. I don’t know how Max’s lap was, but mine wasn’t perfect. We’ve definitely got some time to come from the car and some improvements to make, but I’m sure they have too. But it’s close, as it has been the last couple of races, so it’s exciting.”