On Friday, Red Bull split strategies regarding downforce levels, with Verstappen running a low set-up and Ricciardo going higher. The Australian had planned to try out lower downforce set-up in final practice, but rain hit and prevented him from doing so.
As a result, Ricciardo opted to stick with the higher downforce direction for qualifying, despite the potential limitations, while Verstappen stuck with his set-up, too.
“We decided to go with what we ran yesterday,” said Ricciardo. “We still had a lot of front wing in hand. But at the end of Q1, we had already used every bit of front wing we had and still had understeer. We were a bit slow on the straights but we couldn’t balance it. It’s a frustrating session but yeah, if you have understeer, you know you can do other things with the car, but in qualifying, your hands are tied.
“Of course come 4.10pm [the start of the race] I’ll be confident but on paper, we’re going to be pretty slow on the straight compared to the guys in front. But if it rains, we might be the lucky dogs.”
Ricciardo ended qualifying fifth quickest, 0.866s off the pace, with Verstappen two tenths faster and one place ahead in fourth, behind the two Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner praised the job his drivers did, particularly as he told Sky Sports that Verstappen was running “pretty much Spa levels of downforce and unfortunately we are still seven tenths down on the straight”.
He also said he thinks “Mercedes have gone at this race”. Ricciardo echoed his boss’ thoughts. “In dry conditions, if everything is normal, then yes [Mercedes are out of reach],” he said. “Hopefully it is not normal, but yeah, they’re quicker than us at the moment”.
Verstappen said Mercedes look “easy quick” but “we’ll just see what happens during the race”. But can he challenge Vettel, who will start on the ultrasofts while Verstappen will be on the supersofts, for the final podium place? “He will only have a bit more grip from the start, just from the tyres, but let’s see,” he said. “Hopefully the supersofts just hang on a bit better.”
According to long run data gathered from Friday practice, Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull were all within a tenth of a second of each other, suggesting strategy could play a key part in the outcome of Sunday’s race.