Verstappen happy with 'good start' as Red Bull set the pace in Belgium
At a Spa-Francorchamps track where Mercedes dominance was predicted, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen gave his team something to cheer about on Friday as he headed Free Practice 2 for the Belgian Grand Prix narrowly from the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo, with Lewis Hamilton in P3 for Mercedes. And the Dutchman said he was pleased to have capitalised on the Silver Arrows’ struggles to find a good balance in their car to end his day on a high.
At what is effectively a home track – his mother Sophie is Belgian – Verstappen showed his hand in FP1 by lapping within 0.081s of Valtteri Bottas’ leading time to take P3. But he then confirmed the pace in his Red Bull RB16 in FP2, stopping the clocks at 1m 43.744s to end Friday with the fastest time of all – while team mate Alex Albon put in a decent effort to go P4.
“It’s been alright I think – the car seems to handle well,” Verstappen said at the end of Friday. “Of course it’s early days. From our side, it’s a good start but still some things to work on, of course, for tomorrow. But overall I’m pretty happy.
“A racing car’s never perfect so you always try to find things in the car where you can improve. So we’ll look into that – also with tyre prep and everything.”
Verstappen had predicted another strong weekend for Mercedes during his Thursday media sessions, as he admitted that Spa-Francorchamps hadn’t been Red Bull’s happiest hunting ground in recent years. And despite his FP2-topping time, Verstappen wasn’t expecting to wrench pole away from Mercedes on qualifying day – while he wasn’t discounting the Racing Points pipping him on Saturday either, after Sergio Perez finished FP2 in P5.
“I personally think [Mercedes] are still struggling a bit with balance,” said Verstappen. “I expect them to be stronger tomorrow. You could see already in the long runs they’re really competitive, so I’m not expecting to fight for pole position, but if we can be a bit closer that would be good.
“I think [Racing Point] will be very close,” he added. “So it will be tricky with them in qualifying. But then in the race, it should be alright.”
Despite hailing Spa as his favourite race track, it hasn’t been one of Verstappen’s luckiest venues over the years, the Dutchman having just one podium to his name here, from 2018 – while his 2019 race lasted just two corners before he retired with suspension damage after colliding with Kimi Raikkonen, a wrong he’ll be looking to right this weekend.