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‘We’ve got a very good race car’ – Verstappen and Perez confident of taking the fight to Leclerc after missing out on pole

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Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez have both expressed optimism about their chances of overhauling Charles Leclerc after being beaten to pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix by their Ferrari rival.

A close, action-packed qualifying session at the Baku City Circuit went Leclerc’s way with the decisive Q3 laps – after the Monegasque and Verstappen had initially set identical times in the pole shootout.

READ MORE: Leclerc beats Verstappen in qualifying thriller for third straight Azerbaijan GP pole

It means Leclerc will line up at the front of the grid for Sunday’s main event, making it a hat-trick of poles in Azerbaijan after his P1 results in 2021 and 2022, with Verstappen and Perez ready to pounce from second and third respectively.

“It’s always tough around here to really put the whole lap together,” reflected Verstappen, who finished 0.188s down on Leclerc. “I think also on the second run we tried something different on the out lap, which maybe was not ideal for the lap time ahead.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN - APRIL 28: Second placed qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle

Verstappen was unable to stop Leclerc as the qualifying action ramped up

“Around here it’s really hard. In Q3 you’re on the limit and trying to make everything perfect, [so] it’s not the easiest. But nevertheless, we are P2, we know we have a very good race car, so all in all it’s not bad. Of course, you always want to start ahead, but we [only] have to pass one car.”

As for the standalone Sprint Shootout and Sprint race double that will precede the Grand Prix on Saturday, Verstappen said: “I’m looking forward to it, to see what we can do there. Maybe we can find a few little things to do better.

HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the action from a thrilling qualifying in Baku as Leclerc stuns Red Bull to take pole

“But overall, it was just about keeping it clean [in qualifying]. It’s super easy around here to make a mistake and that’s what we don’t want to do, and then we will see [what happens] tomorrow.”

Perez was left with mixed feelings after his run to third, on the one hand bouncing back from his torrid Saturday last time out in Australia, and on the other hand feeling there was more on the table during an interrupted qualifying session.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN - APRIL 28: Third placed qualifier Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull

Perez will line up directly behind Leclerc on Sunday afternoon

“It started pretty tricky in Q1 with the amount of red flags, and then sticking to the same set [of tyres], you don’t want to waste anymore sets in Q1, so that was difficult with the warm-up,” said the Mexican. “Just to get through without making mistakes, without much practice, it was really challenging. I think the team has done a great job.

“I’m a bit disappointed to be sitting P3. I felt definitely there was more [time] in it, my lap wasn’t that clean. But if there’s a place where you can race, it’s definitely here.”

READ MORE: Leclerc responds to Mercedes rumours as Hamilton says they have ‘no impact’ on his F1 future

Asked if he is surprised by Ferrari’s pace so far this weekend, Perez added: “We knew they were going to be very strong; they are very efficient [with their car package]. We knew coming here the Ferrari was going to be the biggest threat to us, and I think Charles has done a tremendous lap as well.”

Verstappen heads into Saturday’s Sprint action with a 15-point lead over Perez in the drivers’ standings, while Red Bull are 58 points clear of second-placed Aston Martin at the top of the constructors’ rankings.

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