Carlos Sainz described his pace deficit to Max Verstappen as “puzzling” despite the Ferrari driver securing pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix following a grid penalty for the world champion.
Verstappen was quickest by over 0.6s in qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps but only completed one run in Q3 asa grid penalty limited him to a 15th-place start. Sainz was second overall but is promoted to pole as a result, where he will start alongside the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez.
“In terms of overall feeling it was OK,” Sainz said. “We don’t have any big balance issues. Of course, the whole weekend, we just have a pace deficit to Red Bull and Max.
“It’s a bit puzzling because we we’ve been on the pace all year. You know, we’ve been fighting for pole all year, but for some reason at this track, this weekend… I don’t know if it’s temperatures, the efficiency of their car or whatever it is putting them with a healthy — very healthy — margin ahead that is making our life a bit more difficult.
“But even like that, we executed a good qualifying as a team and we managed to put ourselves on pole for tomorrow and we will try and win from there.”
Sainz didn’t improve on his final attempt despite getting a tow from his Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc and he says Verstappen’s advantage is a true one.
“Q3 run one was a pretty clean lap. Obviously, with a tow from Charles, I missed my braking point a bit into Turn 5-6-7 and lost a bit there. But there was no more than a tenth (of a second) in it. So, when you see the gap to Max, it makes you wonder where that (comes from).
“It has been there all weekend because FP3, FP2, he was just always more than half a second ahead of us in every compound, in every situation. So, some homework to do there. But I do believe that in race trim, we can be a bit more competitive.”
Leclerc was also concerned by Red Bull’s advantage, although he admitted he wasn’t focusing on qualifying performance himself due to his own grid penalty.
“There’s some potential, obviously because we didn’t prepare for qualifying as much as we normally do; but when you see the gap to Max, it’s a bit worrying,” Leclerc said. “They’re extremely quick — it’s been the case since the beginning of the weekend and we can’t explain quite why. We need to work. We will try our best tomorrow but they seem to have found something this weekend.”
The Monegasque played down a tire error from Ferrari that that led to him doing his first run in Q3 on new soft tires when the team had intended to save them.
“I think there was a miscommunication — it wasn’t a big deal. Obviously I mentioned it because I was a bit surprised. But yeah, it doesn’t change anything anyway, for the rest of the weekend.”