Pole in Brazil ‘a bit of a stretch’ – Red Bull
There were shades of 2013 in Mexico when Red Bull locked out the front row for the first time in the hybrid era. And while you shouldn’t count on that happening twice in a row, after the team conceded that pole position at Interlagos will likely by contested between the Mercedes and Ferrari runners, team boss Christian Horner nonetheless believes that his drivers could yet pose a threat in race trim.
Red Bull enjoyed a mixed Friday at Interlagos, Max Verstappen narrowly coming out on top in Free Practice 1, while in the FP2 qualifying simulations, Daniel Ricciardo was the team’s highest runner in fourth, behind the two Mercedes and the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel – although fifth-placed Verstappen was compromised by an oil leak that kept him constrained in the garage for half the session, before encountering traffic on his supersoft-shod fast laps when he finally made it out on track.
Qualifying in Brazil has not been the team’s strong suit in the post-2014 hybrid era, with Red Bull having never had better than the third fastest car at Interlagos in that time. That’s largely down to a hilly Sector 3, which tends to highlight their car’s horsepower deficit to the Ferrari and Mercedes runners. But while in real terms that means, as Ricciardo put it, that ‘pole’s probably a bit of a stretch’, race pace analysis suggests that the team could still come away from Brazil with a result on Sunday.
“You can see the car is great in the middle sector,” said Horner. “We’re okay in the first sector. It’s the last sector that is a bit painful. If we can get a car on the second row here, we’ve got good race pace – you could see the others were blistering their tyres quicker than we were. I think come Sunday, especially if the temperature increases, we’re in good shape.”
Winner last time out in Mexico, Verstappen too was focussing more on Sunday’s race than Saturday’s qualifying as he reflected on his Friday’s running.
“Straight away I was actually quite happy with the car,” said Verstappen at the end of Free Practice 2. “I don’t think we are going to fight for pole position [but] the car is in a good window. In the long runs, I was quite happy. There a few things to improve but I’m quite confident we can improve them.”
Fresh off his seventh mechanical DNF of the season in Mexico, you would have forgiven Ricciardo for being a little downcast in Brazil – especially following the news that he would receive a five-place grid drop, thanks to a change of turbocharger made necessary after a marshal squirted a fire extinguisher up the exhaust pipe of Ricciardo’s stricken Red Bull in Mexico.
But at a track where overtaking is possible – especially for one of the best in the business – Ricciardo seemed to be looking forward to going on the offensive come race day, as well as hinting that he would attempt something leftfield strategy-wise to try and help him secure a podium for Red Bull in his penultimate race for the team.
“Race pace seems solid,” reckoned Ricciardo after his day’s running. “It’s always a tricky track here to get the car set up right – it’s quite demanding on the tyres, so we struggled a little bit with that in the morning, but we found a sweeter spot in the afternoon.
“All three tyres don’t actually seem that bad to start the race on so we’ll try and do something different, maybe, on Sunday.”