Max Verstappen admits his pole position for the French Grand Prix was a better performance than he expected from Red Bull at a track Mercedes has traditionally dominated at.
Mercedes has locked out the front row on both occasions since Formula 1 returned to Paul Ricard, with an advantage of 0.4s over the next quickest team in 2018 and 0.6s in 2019. Lewis Hamilton went on to win both races with ease but Verstappen says his pole over the defending champion this weekend is a surprise.
“I think from yesterday, FP2, we made a good step forward, and basically that continued today,” Verstappen said. “Of course the conditions in FP3 were a little bit different but we showed again in qualifying we had been good pace, so very pleased with that. This has traditionally not been an amazing track for us so to put it on pole here, we’re super happy about that.
“I knew it was going to be better than the last time we were here, but this good, I didn’t expect, so that’s very promising for us and of course we just have to keep on going, keep on pushing, to try and make it better.”
Verstappen is optimistic the advantage will remain in race trim, too, saying of his long runs: “It felt good yesterday in FP2, but of course we have to wait and see what the weather will do; but I’m quite confident.”
While Mercedes appears to be struggling to get its car into a good performance window during recent race weekends — often changing the setup significantly from Friday into Saturday — Red Bull has looked more competitive from the first session and Verstappen puts it down to preparation.
“I mean, I spend a lot of time on the sim as well and also we have very good sim drivers so our sim is very accurate, which I think is very important when you cannot do many test days in the real car.
“Most of the time we are quite happy starting a weekend but you still improve and change things on the car. FP1 I wasn’t entirely happy so we made quite a few changes and it was immediately a lot better, but sometimes it is about preparation as well before you get here.”