‘We still need to find more’ – Verstappen not satisfied despite P2 pace in Sakhir GP Friday practice

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - DECEMBER 04: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing prepares to drive

Max Verstappen finished P2 in both of Friday’s free practice sessions for the Sakhir Grand Prix. But despite that, the Dutchman said he expected plenty of homework from his Red Bull team on Friday evening to get the RB16 into the right window at the fast and frenetic Outer Track of the Bahrain International Circuit, after what he described as a “tricky” day.

With Mercedes debutant George Russell – filling in for the Covid-sidelined Lewis Hamilton this weekend – heading both Free Practice 1 and 2 on Friday, Verstappen enjoyed what looked to be a positive day on paper, finishing P2 to Russell on both occasions, and within two-tenths of the Briton the whole day.

FP2: Mercedes sub Russell beats Verstappen to complete clean sweep on Friday at Sakhir GP

But with Verstappen having been heard complaining of understeer and a bizarre “hopping” sensation – as he put it – on his car’s suspension, “quite tricky” was how he summed up his Friday, adding: “I think balance-wise we still didn’t find the optimum set-up, so especially short run, it seems like we’re still lacking a bit. Long run didn’t seem so bad, but even there, I think we can do better.

“Valtteri’s lap got cancelled,” added Verstappen, referring to deleted lap of 54.506s set by Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in FP2, which had it stood would have been 0.335s faster than Verstappen’s 54.841s. “We’re three and a half tenths off [Bottas’ deleted time] so that’s quite a bit. We still need to find more, especially working towards quali, and again in the race, we need to improve a bit more to be competitive.”

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - DECEMBER 04: Sparks fly behind Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the

Verstappen struggled with understeer on his RB16

Team mate Alex Albon, meanwhile, took a P3 in FP1 and a P5 in FP2 – his fastest lap in the second session seeing him encounter the AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly around the short 3.5km lap, costing him some time. But the Thai driver was more upbeat about his performance than his team mate had been, although he admitted he was slightly puzzled as to why he’d felt more competitive in FP1 than FP2.

“It was okay out there,” said Albon. “[The track] has its own uniqueness; it’s so short it’s really vital to get the set-up perfect. Actually FP1 was better than FP2 for us, so we’ll have a think about it, see what we did right and wrong and come back tomorrow.

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - DECEMBER 04: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Aston Martin Red Bull

Albon said he'd enjoyed the challenge of the new layout

“Honestly it actually felt like we had more grip in FP1 than we did in FP2. A bit of rear grip, a bit of front grip, but mainly front grip we’re lacking in that FP2 session. We’ll have a look but race pace actually looks pretty good, so that’s positive.”

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Meanwhile, with the drivers tackling an alternative layout of the Bahrain track they competed at last weekend, Albon – who took his second career podium behind Hamilton and Verstappen in the Bahrain Grand Prix last Sunday – labelled the new configuration “fun”, saying: “It’s so short, you’ve got to get it perfect. But it’s quite fun and quite challenging actually. I enjoy it – I just need to be quicker!”


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