Verstappen anticipating ‘interesting’ first lap in Sochi after taking 'very unexpected' P2 in qualifying
Red Bull looked out of contention for the front row based on their form in Friday practice in Sochi, but Max Verstappen conjured up “one of my best laps in qualifying” to split the dominant Mercedes and secure P2 on the grid for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.
“It is very unexpected,” said Verstappen of his front row start, behind pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton and ahead of the other Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. “I don’t say it often, but I think it was one of my best laps in qualifying.
“It felt really good, I was struggling a bit with the balance of the car in Q1 and Q2. We tried to find a few things to stabilise everything. I think in Q3, especially the second run, we managed to do that to a certain extent and the lap was good, so very happy to be on the front row.”
Verstappen backed out of his soft tyre run just before the start-finish line in Q2 when it became clear his previous lap on the mediums would be good enough to get through to the final part of qualifying.
With Hamilton enduring a difficult session and ending up being forced to run the softs to ensure his progress through qualifying, having had a time deleted for track limits and then forced to abort his next when the red flag comes out, Verstappen is in a strong position.
But he’s not getting carried away. “I’m starting on the dirty side and on this track its quite a big difference - it’s not been [used] a lot on this track,” he said. “On other tracks it doesn’t usually make a big difference.
“Of course, I’m also on the harder compound so for sure the launch will be a bit tricky. You never know, the tow into Turn 2, but Valtteri is next to me on the good side. I think it’s going to be an interesting first lap.”
Verstappen expects Mercedes to be very hard to beat, though, and after two successive DNFs, the last because of a power unit issue, his focus is on scoring a solid result.
“Overall I think the Mercedes guys are a bit faster in race pace so I’ll try my very best to stay with them and see what happens,” he said.
“But I’d like to have a good start, and by start I mean once I go full throttle to have full power would be nice, and then not get taken out, after two retirements I think it’s good to score some points again.”
Verstappen's team mate Alex Albon will start 10th, meanwhile, after finishing up over a second back from the Dutchman. "It didn't feel terrible," he said, "but I didn't feel like I could go much quicker than I did. It's been quite tricky all weekend, just getting the tyres to last."
The Thai driver's hopes of a second successive podium now look remote, although as we saw in Monza, anything can happen if there are safety cars...