Russian Grand Prix – Max Verstappen denied Mercedes a first row lockout as he put his Red Bull on the front row for tomorrow’s race.
Verstappen was not overly confident with the Red Bull’s handling on the Sochi track after Friday’s practice sessions, and even during the Q1 and Q2 the Dutch driver could only manage to put in lap times over nine tenths off the top of the charts.
“We were struggling a bit to find the right balance with the car on this track, it’s quite slippery around here,” said Verstappen. “Even this morning I was not entirely happy.”
It all came together for the Red Bull driver in the final part of qualifying though as his last lap, while still half a second off Hamilton’s pole time, was good enough to deny Valtteri Bottas a spot on the front row.
“Through qualifying we were really working on trying to nail the balance,” Verstappen added. “And I think in Q3, the final run especially, it was not bad. To be second on the grid I didn’t expect it so very, very pleased with that. I don’t say this often but I think this was one of my best ever qualifying laps and it felt really good.”
With the tow being quite powerful around the Sochi Autodrom, Verstappen might be in with a chance of taking the lead from Lewis Hamilton at the start. The pole sitter will also have to deal with starting on soft tyres which will degrade faster than Verstappen’s medium compound, so this could also play into the Red Bull driver’s hands.
“I’m starting on the dirty side of the grid which does make a difference with the initial launch but I’m also on the medium tyre which is the best way for us. If we can have a decent start, then the tow effect is very big around here. So if we can get a good draft, who knows what is going to happen into turn 2.”
“I think the Mercedes does still have more overall pace so they will be hard to beat but I’m happy with today and I think we really extracted more than we thought was possible and we can be very happy with that.”