‘Lewis was faster’ – Verstappen predicting tough battle despite topping both Friday sessions
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen appeared to lay down a marker at the start of the Styrian Grand Prix weekend, going fastest in both Free Practice 1 and Free Practice 2, as title rival Lewis Hamilton could manage no better than P3 across Friday. But with Hamilton having set the fastest time in FP2 before having it deleted, Verstappen was under no illusions that his title rival was going to be a pushover this weekend.
Verstappen stopped the clocks with a 1m 05.412s lap in second practice at the Red Bull Ring, to claim his second fastest time of the day as he swept Friday practice – as Hamilton, on paper at least, couldn’t get within three-tenths of the Dutchman on Friday, ending up P4 in FP2 and 0.384s adrift, having been 0.422s off in FP1.
But with Hamilton having had a 1m 05.335s lap deleted for track limit infringements at Turn 10 in FP2 – which would have seen him top the session from Verstappen by 0.077s – Verstappen didn’t pull any punches with his assessment of his day.
“In the second practice Lewis was faster but his lap time got deleted, so it looks a bit different, I think, than what's shown at the moment,” said Verstappen. “But I think overall it's been quite good for us, of course a few things still to look into but overall I'm quite happy with where the car is at the moment.”
Asked if he thought it was going to be close with Hamilton come qualifying, Verstappen replied: “Clearly. If [his lap time] is possible already in FP2, I'm sure towards qualifying – well, we have to wait and see what the weather will do – but overall again I think it will be very tight.”
It was a harder day for Verstappen’s team mate Sergio Perez, who went 13th fastest in FP1, before improving to just P9 in FP2, the Mexican failing to get within six-tenths of Verstappen all day.
That, Perez said, was down to taking the wrong direction with set-up on his Red Bull RB16B – adding that he wasn’t “concerned at all” by the time deficit at this stage.
“From our side, we just have to find a bit of fine-tuning,” said Perez. “I seem to have these issues in practice – I'm not so comfortable in the car, I kind of take one direction and probably it's not the right one.
“I think we do have good pace. The long-run pace seemed to be promising so if we're able to find a couple of tenths overnight, we're in the fight for tomorrow, which is important.
“I'm not concerned at all,” he added. “Obviously here finding a few tenths makes a huge difference. So hopefully we are in the mix tomorrow come qualifying and we're able to put a great lap together in Q3.”
Heading into the Styrian Grand Prix weekend, Red Bull hold a 37-point advantage over rivals Mercedes, with Verstappen 12 points clear of Hamilton in the drivers’ standings.