Max Verstappen believes his fastest lap in the Qatar Grand Prix could prove to be crucial come the end of the season after recovering from a grid penalty to score 19 points.
The stewards gave Verstappen a five-place grid penalty for failing to respect double waved yellow flags in qualifying, dropping him to seventh on a track that was expected to be tough to overtake on. An excellent start saw Verstappen up to fourth by the first corner and second a few laps later, and although he couldn’t chase down title rival Lewis Hamilton for the win, he scored the fastest lap to limit the damage in terms of the championship picture.
“I knew I was going to get a penalty yesterday evening,” Verstappen said. “I was prepared for that, so when I saw the result I was not shocked or surprised. You just focus — you have to pass a few more cars than you normally would like. Luckily it worked out really well in Lap 1 already.
“Of course it was important to clear them as quickly as possible. I had a really good getaway — I was already fourth out of Turn 1. Then within five laps I was second. I just tried to keep the gap close with Lewis as much as I could. I think that worked out well. We just didn’t have the pace this weekend, to match them
“I just tried to follow and it was all right in the end. I did the fastest lap, which I was pretty happy about. At the end of the day it’s still one extra point. Everything counts at the moment, but overall, this weekend wasn’t the best for us. There’s still two races to go — a lot of things can happen still.”
Verstappen picked up slight front wing damage on the opening lap but didn’t feel it hampered his chances of beating Hamilton, and admits the title battle continues to be fun to be a part of, even as the defending champion cut his lead to eight points.
“It’s exciting — of course I would’ve liked to have made it a bigger gap but when you don’t have the pace, it’s impossible to do that. You just try to be better, try to come back stronger — especially in Saudi, at the street track. Then we’ll see in Abu Dhabi.
“Where the (stronger Mercedes) pace comes from, if we knew we would change things. But it’s just not been our track somehow. Also these tires, sometimes you nail them and you gain quite a bit of grip. If you’re not on top of it, it can sometimes make a bit of a difference as well. But clearly the last few races, even races I won, I had a feeling they were really strong. So for my feeling, quite a few events where we actually gained points, I thought we could’ve lost points as well.
“We just have to keep on pushing. So far we’ve done an amazing job as a team compared to the previous years when they were so dominant. So for us to even be in this fight is very impressive. We’re not going to give up, but clearly this weekend we lacked a bit of pace.
“But every weekend is different. And not even about pace — anything can happen in a race weekend. As you can see, in qualifying I got a five-place grid penalty with this yellow flag situation. These kind of things can happen really quickly to anybody.”