Red Bull encouraged by ‘really competitive’ long run pace in Spanish GP practice
The question on everyone’s minds in the build up to the Spanish Grand Prix was whether Max Verstappen could pull off a repeat of his Silverstone win from a week ago at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend. And despite Verstappen ending up over eight-tenths adrift of Lewis Hamilton in Free Practice 2, Red Bull were encouraged by their race pace at the end of Friday's running.
Verstappen finished third behind the two Mercedes in both of Friday’s sessions for the Spanish Grand Prix, winding up 0.821s off Hamilton in the qualifying simulations of FP2. But while the Dutchman certainly wasn’t backing himself for pole position this weekend, he believed there was reason for Red Bull to be optimistic for Sunday’s race.
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“I felt quite good today – let’s see on Sunday if it’s going to be the same,” he said. “I think today the car was performing quite okay. Over one lap we are clearly lacking to Mercedes, but overall I think it was a positive day. Especially on the long runs, the car felt pretty nice to drive, so of course that’s quite important.”
Fresh from watching his driver’s data on the pit wall, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner was also encouraged by Verstappen’s long run performance on the medium tyre around Barcelona.
“I think Mercedes’ one-lap pace advantage, you can see again here today, it looks very, very competitive,” said Horner. “I think we take encouragement from Max’s longer runs, particularly on the medium tyre he looked really competitive, so that’s encouraging for Sunday and we’ll see what the weather does.”
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Alex Albon had a tougher day, meanwhile, with a set-up change for FP2 taking him in the wrong direction with his car, and meaning he was over seven-tenths, and 10 positions, off his team mate in the session down in P13.
Asked if he had found the car more comfortable than when he drove it at Barcelona in winter testing back in February, Albon replied: “This morning yes, this afternoon, not so much. We tried a few things that didn’t go in the direction we wanted to. It is an improvement but I think the Mercedes are very fast… We’ll have a look at the data [and] we’ll go back towards that direction.”
Albon went on to predict a race of tyre management, meanwhile, despite Pirelli having reverted to the three hardest compounds for the Spanish Grand Prix, with hot temperatures forecast for the rest of the weekend.
“[The tyres aren’t] blistering like we had at Silverstone, but it’s actually not as comfortable, for us at least,” he said. “It’s tricky out there – there’ll be a lot of tyre management, that’s for sure.”
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And with the move to the softer step of compounds having been integral to his win at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix, the switch back to the harder set was bemoaned by Verstappen before he headed off to his engineering debrief on Friday evening. “We’re using all the hardest compounds, so [the degradation] is okay, it’s manageable,” he said. “I would have liked a bit softer but it is what it is.”