Verstappen says car felt good ‘from the first run’ in Spa as Horner explains why title leader opted for engine penalties
Max Verstappen produced a dominant showing in Free Practice 2 for the Belgian Grand Prix, lapping over eight-tenths faster than anyone else. And the Dutchman was glad to have been so rapid on Friday, given he’ll be starting Sunday’s race from the back of the grid.
Verstappen finished FP1 two-tenths adrift of the Ferrari pair of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc. Come FP2, though, and the balance swung in Verstappen’s favour, with the Dutchman – whose mother is Belgian – lapping 0.862s faster than title rival Leclerc as the rain held off for the majority of the drivers’ qualifying simulation runs.
“I think as soon as we went out, the car was working pretty well,” said Verstappen. “There’s always little things that you want to fine-tune with the balance, but basically from the first run I was happy with the car.
“From the laps we did, the car was working well, so that’s a positive. Obviously I would have liked to run a little bit more, [like] everyone else, but so far it’s been a good start.”
However, having taken on a raft of new power unit elements, Verstappen will be forced to battle his way through the field on Sunday. Was he confident he could make it up to the front by the end of the race? “That’s what we’ll try,” replied Verstappen. “We have to!”
Team boss Christian Horner later explained why Red Bull had decided to change Verstappen’s power unit here – with the Dutchman set to be joined by Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Mick Schumacher and title rival Leclerc at the back of the pack on Sunday.
“You look strategically at the calendar,” said Horner, “and we felt it was particularly tight to get to the end of the year with the engine allocation that we have, so then you look at the circuits coming up: Zandvoort, you don’t want to take it there; Monza’s actually harder to overtake than you’d think; Singapore, you don’t want to take it there; Japan’s tricky to overtake.
“So you start running out of options. This is a good track to overtake at and we feel we should be quick here so hence we’ve decided to take the opportunity here.
“Here, it’s probably the smallest overtaking delta needed of the season; here and Bahrain are probably two of the easiest circuits on the calendar to actually make an overtake, so that’s why probably so many people have nominated this circuit to take that penalty, to try and get engines in the pool for the rest of the year.”
Verstappen’s team mate Sergio Perez had a low-key Friday, going P10 in both sessions – although the Mexican was confident that those results didn’t tell the whole story.
“We’ve been very unfortunate with the conditions,” said Perez, who suffered a hydraulic issue in FP2 that affected his rear wing. “We’ve just been out at the wrong time, especially on the final lap [in FP2] with the soft tyre, things were a bit on the damper side, so as soon as you get a damp corner, then you easily lose the balance… and it’s very hard to learn anything.
“We’ll see what we’re able to pick up. I think we’re looking good, we’re looking competitive, but we just have to get everything right.”