Verstappen surprised by Red Bull pace at French GP

Max Verstappen

Max Verstappen has admitted he’s surprised by the pace Red Bull has shown thus far at the Formula 1 French Grand Prix.

The Dutchman will start the race from pole position, his second of the season, while team-mate Sergio Perez will line up fourth.

Heading into the weekend, many predicted Mercedes would return to the strong form it had demonstrated earlier in the season.

On Friday, that looked to be the case as Valtteri Bottas showed solid form on both short and long runs.

Work overnight at Red Bull however saw Verstappen take a sizeable step forward in Free Practice 3, before claiming pole position by a quarter of a second over his main championship rival.

“I knew it was going to be better than the last time we were [here] but this good, I didn’t expect,” Verstappen said of his team’s improved showing in Paul Ricard, a circuit traditionally dominated by Mercedes.

“That’s very promising for us, and we just have to keep going on, keep on pushing to try and make it better.”

Verstappen topped the final practice session of the weekend by 0.7s from Bottas, and while he did not enjoy the same advantage in qualifying he still had pace in hand when it mattered.

“From yesterday, FP2, I think we made a good step forward and basically that continued today,” he said.

“Of course, the conditions in FB3 were initially a little bit different but then again, it showed in qualifying that we had good pace.

“This has traditionally not been an amazing track for us to but to be able to put it on pole here, of course we’re super, super happy about that.”

Verstappen confirmed himself on pole with his final lap, improving over what he’d managed to that point.

It was crucial, his 1:30.325s effort from earlier in the final part of Qualifying 3 would have fallen to Hamilton’s 1:30.248, and ultimately moved the pace into the 1:29 bracket, the only driver to do so.

“We did two runs with the medium in Q2, so then you go out in Q3 on the soft and I think you’re always a tiny bit under the potential in your first run,” the 23-year-old explained.

“Then you’re on the second run, you know where you left a bit of lap time, so you’re just gaining every corner, more or less every corner, just a tiny bit, and I think that’s where the lap time comes from.”

The result marked Verstappen’s fifth career pole position, and his first since the season opener in Bahrain in March.

He currently holds a slender four point advantage over Hamilton after he crashed out of the lead in Azerbaijan last time out, while a mistake from Hamilton saw him slide out of the points soon after.

The Formula 1 French Grand Prix gets underway at 23:00 AEST tonight.

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