Verstappen: Mercedes will be stronger when they turn it up

In true Red Bull tradition, the RB16 is proving to be a late bloomer, the quirky Adrian Newey penned chassis takes the mastery of Max Verstappen to get the most out of it and on day one of the 2020 Belgian Grand Prix the Dutchman was fastest of all.

The margins at the front are tiny, and Friday with powder dry and everyone on different agendas may be meaningless but ending fastest of all is inspirational.

In FP2, Verstappen’s 1:44.574 was as good as it got around an overcast Spa-Francorchamps and he was upbeat in his review, “The car seems to be handling well, it is, of course, early days but from our side, it was a positive Friday and overall I’m pretty happy. A racing car is never perfect and you always try to find things on the car and with the tyre prep that you can improve, so we will be looking at that tonight.

“Personally, I think Mercedes are still struggling a bit with the balance and I expect them to be stronger tomorrow. You can see already that they are very competitive on the long runs and I don’t think I will be fighting them for pole because we can’t really follow when they turn it up in qualifying. If we can at least be a bit closer that would be good ahead of the race.

“It was important to get some decent dry running today, even if the conditions change over the weekend, so we can find a good baseline. It’s never easy around Spa to find the perfect downforce level and you can see everyone trying different things, but I think we are in a reasonable place and we will find out tomorrow exactly where that puts us.”

Alex Albon, in the sister car, ended his day on 1:44.134 which was good enough for fourth on the timesheets, but four-tenths down on his teammate.

Nevertheless, it seemed a better day for the under-pressure Red Bull driver and he said as much in his summary, “It’s been a promising day and I felt good with the car from the very first lap. It felt strong and the car is gelling better. The times are surprisingly close and so we’ll continue to fine-tune the car and dial out what we can but it will be tight tomorrow.”

In five visits as an F1 driver to Spa, Verstappen has only been on the Belgian Grand Prix podium once, when he finished third in 2018. Albon finished fifth on his Red Bull debut here last year.