Max Verstappen believes Red Bull has taken a “massive” step forward following the introduction of its upgrade package at the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Dutchman, who tasted victory in Barcelona last year, qualified fifth and lapped 0.557s off Lewis Hamilton’s pole position time, which is the closest Red Bull has been to the front in 2017.
In the last race in Russia, the lead Red Bull was 1.711s off pole and the closest it has been this year was 0.776s in the preceding race in Bahrain.
However, team-mate Daniel Ricciardo struggled for balance in the final sector that saw him end up a second from pole in sixth.
“Absolutely, we went forward,” said Verstappen.
“So far this weekend before qualifying we were still finding the balance a bit with the new upgrades, but I think in qualifying we were spot on.
“The car was definitely the best I’ve had all season, so I’m very happy. It was a good qualifying.
“To come from one second to six tenths is a massive step already. Now we just need to keep pushing on the car side and wait to see what comes from the engine.
“We cannot control that. We are definitely more positive at the moment.”
The Dutchman said the upgrades have translated into a huge improvement in the balance of the car and believes the RB13 has got stronger in every area.
“Everywhere,” he said when asked where had the car improved.
“The car has a better balance from entry, to mid and mid-to-exit of the corner. It’s a much more stable balance and you can push a lot more, and I think it showed today.
“We just need to keep on working to get even more downforce in the car. But if you look at the last sector I was third quickest of all the drivers, so that shows we are on the good way.”
The Red Bull driver acknowledged that closing the gap further will not be as easy and that engine supplier Renault has a key role to play with its delayed update.
“It’s easier to make a slow car faster and to close that gap, because 1.5 seconds is a lot,” said Verstappen.
“It will be hard to close those six tenths, but we are working on it.
“There’s still a bit to unlock from the car and then the rest we need to get it from the engine side as well, because we know in qualifying especially Mercedes can just turn up the engine, which we can’t do.”