ALSO READ† Charles Leclerc flies to fourth pole position in a row in Azerbaijan, frustrations with Max Verstappen
Verstappen once again had to tolerate Charles Leclerc and his own teammate Sergio Pérez during qualifying for the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan (starts Sunday 1 pm Belgian time).
It remains a bit strange to see the Limburger standing behind his teammate, after years in which he crushed his Red Bull companions. “But that difference from others was also extraordinary. You can see it that way,” said Verstappen in the Baku paddock. “Of course I want to be further up front, but at the moment it is very difficult to find a good balance in the car.”
That is not new, Verstappen has been struggling with that all year. Seen from that perspective, it’s a huge bonus that he ‘just’ leads the battle for the world championship. But he knows there’s a lot more to get out of the RB18. However, it is difficult for the clever minds in his team to solve the problems.
“It sometimes gets a bit better, but the other drivers also get into a rhythm at some point. We need to take a step so that I can feel better in the car. At the moment that is not the case. Certain things can be adjusted, for example if the team looks at the set-up and things like that. But overall it’s hard to change things this year when you see how the car is built.”
After all, the technical rules in Formula 1 are strict and there is also a budget ceiling. Verstappen has been king at Red Bull in recent years, which drove a car with a high rear. This is no longer the case with the brand new cars. It is precisely Pérez that feels more comfortable in the RB18. Verstappen wants more grip at the front.
“This has been the case to some extent all year and it is even more apparent on street circuits. We’re trying to work on that, but it’s not great. On these tracks, with tight corners and 90 degree turns, you need a car that turns really fast. But right now I can’t find the balance between front and rear. The new cars are built with a different philosophy from previous seasons. That works out less for me, yes.”
Verstappen has to be patient in that regard, he admits. “With a new car it is always very difficult to immediately go in the right direction. Then when I got to Red Bull, we also gradually started to adapt things to the car the way I wanted it. That comes naturally with this car. If I feel better in the car, I think I can fight for pole position. That is a lot more difficult this way.”
Last year, Verstappen was on his way to victory in Baku, also starting from third place, until a blowout threw a spanner in the works. “That Pérez is now standing in front of me twice? That can happen, it’s not a drama,” he remains politically correct. “I think Ferrari may be able to peak a bit more in qualifying, but in the race they will also be very fast. It is true that we have a bit more top speed. On the other hand, they are very strong in the second sector. If they can pull a gap there, our top speed doesn’t matter much anymore.”