Max Verstappen says he got his Red Bull closer to his liking just in time for qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix as he secured pole position for the season opener.
Red Bull was the quickest team during pre-season testing but Verstappen was struggling with the balance during practice, admitting it seemed a bit easier than expected for the car to fall out of its performance window. After Fernando Alonso topped FP2 and FP3, Verstappen took pole position from teammate Sergio Perez and led the first non-Red Bull of Charles Leclerc by nearly 0.3s.
Jump aboard @Max33Verstappen's RB19 for the first @pirellisport Pole Position of 2023!#BahrainGP #F1 @redbullracing pic.twitter.com/EjZ7f5mCjZ
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 4, 2023
“I’m particularly happy because my whole weekend up until qualifying was very difficult,” Verstappen said. “I couldn’t really find the comfortable balance I had in testing and I was just struggling a lot to just get the car together, really. I went into Q1 and everything already felt a bit better, but it was still not perfect. So I’m very happy then in Q3 that we could put these laps in.
“I still think it’s not perfect, but in a better direction. So, for sure, for the next race we will have to analyze a bit why from the test to the race weekend it’s so different for us, and also for me driving-wise. But nevertheless, we are sitting here with two cars (on the front row), so coming off last year I think this is a very strong start for us again.
“I went left and right and back to the middle and found a bit of a compromise (with setup). So that’s a bit unusual that you make such big changes. But, like I said, luckily in qualifying that’s probably the best balance I’ve had throughout the weekend so far.”
Although Red Bull locked out the front row, Ferrari looked a threat in the first part of Q3 and Aston Martin and Mercedes were also both within striking distance during the session.
“They are all very close to us. Of course, we have shown really good race pace but we still need to show that tomorrow, and a lot of things can happen also during a race, which sometimes is not in your control. So yeah, we just need to focus on ourselves and try to do the best we can. And hopefully no crazy things will happen.
“For sure, (Aston Martin) look very competitive. I think not only this year — last year their car was maybe not that amazing — but I think on race pace, they were always quite strong compared to their competitors. So they probably took that also into this year.
“So for sure they will be very competitive in the race, but a bit difficult to tell. But a lot of things can happen throughout the race, with certain safety car moments or whatever. You need to make the right calls at the right time as well. You don’t even need to have the fastest car then to win.”