Despite being beaten by Ferrari in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix, Max Verstappen still was exuberant to find Red Bull fighting at the front again.
Charles Leclerc pipped Verstappen by just over 0.1s to take the first pole position of 2022, with Carlos Sainz only 0.006s further back in third place. Despite the challenge from Ferrari, Verstappen saw areas that his car could have performed better and believes there is scope to fine-tune the package even further from Red Bull’s starting point.
“It was a bit hit and miss just getting the balance together,” Verstappen said. “This track is always quite difficult for that — just with the layout and the wind, it makes it all a bit more tricky. I had a really good feeling in Q2, then my first run in Q3 I didn’t really enjoy it, just sliding around a bit much.
“Then I made a tiny correction for the last run which helped me in some areas but then suddenly I lost like a tenth in one corner, then gained a bit and lost a bit, so it was a bit hit and miss everywhere. That’s of course not what you want, but nevertheless it’s the first race of the season and we are competitive and that’s the most important.
“Now we just need to keep working on the car and understand these things when you really take the fuel out and are really pushing it to the limit to see what you can do better. Overall of course it’s a great start and also for tomorrow we have a good race car. All the time when I’ve been on race fuel the car has been feeling quite stable and good on tires, so that’s very important.”
It was a two-team battle for pole as Mercedes struggled in qualifying, although Lewis Hamilton salvaged fifth place on the grid. Verstappen expects the defending champions to come back strongly, and says recent history shows how rapidly Mercedes can improve during a season.
“You can clearly see of course the bouncing they have — I think the car is not easy to drive. Also for them it seems a bit hit and miss — sometimes they can do a decent lap and then sometimes it’s a bit more difficult to nail the balance — so I think they just need to figure out a few things but if they can figure it out that package can be really quick.
“We just have to keep working hard. Of course it’s nice to be ahead now, but I also know from last year how quickly they can develop a car and at one point it was very difficult to beat that car. So things can change really quickly, and especially with new regulations as well I think there are still a lot of unknown areas in the car where you can suddenly find a lot of performance.
“It’s good for now from our side, but I expect them for sure to work very hard and try to close that gap.”