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BARCELONA, SPAIN - JUNE 22: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive in the garage during final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on June 22, 2024 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Verstappen: I’m happy, it’s all to play for in the race

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JUNE 22: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive in the garage during final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on June 22, 2024 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Max Verstappen went over three-tenths faster than anyone and looking set for pole position late in Qualifying with a stellar lap for the 2024 Spanish Grand Prix until McLaren’s Lando Norris denied him with an even better lap, but the Red Bull driver was not complaining.

In the end, Verstappen was shy 0.020s of Norris’ pole-winning lap which shows how much the pecking order has altered since F1 were last in Barcelona, in 2023 when Max took pole and Norris was P3, half a second down on the Red Bull’s best effort in Qualifying today.

Early season aside, Verstappen knows he is in a fight these days. This won’t be a 2023 repeat when he monstered every race and no driver came close. The #1 Red Bull was almost unbeatable then. These days it is a very different story.

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Searching for the sweetspot on the Red Bull RB20 all weekend long, in his unique and masterful way, Verstappen found pace in the Barcelona package which teammate Sergio Perez simply could not today, and simply cannot match when the chips are down.

When the chequered waved to end Qualy, it was Norris in P1, which was not as hard to take for Verstappen if it had been his nemesis Lewis Hamilton who is enjoying a fine turn of form of late in a revived Merc. The Mercedes driver will start Sunday’s race from P3.

Verstappen: I got a nice tow from Checo in Q3

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JUNE 22: Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing and The Netherlands during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on June 22, 2024 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

In the Barcelona parc ferme after Qualy, Verstappen said: “I think in qualifying it was all coming together a bit nicer. The whole weekend we have tried to find a connected balance. I was quite happy in qualifying. That’s how it goes sometimes but overall we can still be happy with that performance and it’s all to play for in the race.”

Verstappen went on to explain how teammate Perez became useful during the session: “I got a nice tow from Checo in Q3 but unfortunately, it was not enough. That was by chance. I didn’t even know where Checo was on the lap and then they told me where he was so I was like ‘I will try to hang onto him’.

“Throughout qualifying the wind started to pick up a little bit. Maybe that made it a bit more difficult for us in Q3. But, overall a good performance from us,” added Verstappen, who last year won the Spanish GP comfortably by 24 seconds, with his nemesis Hamilton P3.

Perez has struggled all weekend to find the right balance to suit his style around Circuit Barcelona. His time was 0,658s down on Verstappen’s effort. The Mexican veteran will start from P8.

Perez: I am not happy with my position

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JUNE 22: Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing looks on in the garage during final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Spain at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on June 22, 2024 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

In the Red Bull team report, Perez explained yet another below-par Qualy: “I am not happy with my position, the target was to be higher up. It was a tricky qualifying, we struggled initially and we burned through the tyres quickly unfortunately, which meant we weren’t able to extract the maximum out of it.

“My final lap wasn’t as clean as it needed to be in Q3, I didn’t have enough of a rhythm or a pace. We needed more of a progression through the session and we didn’t have that, we will work hard to have that for the race.

“We have made some good changes so we should be on the right track for Sunday. It will be a difficult race from P11 with the grid penalty and it will be very important to be patient and get the right opportunities, especially if it’s wet because anything can happen.

“We have to be ready to be out there when it matters. Hopefully, we are able to secure some good points and take them away from our rivals,” added Perez who is p5 in the 2023 F1 Championship Standings after nine rounds.

Horner: It could be another really exciting race day

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Red Bull team boss Christian Horner summed hup his team’s Saturday: “That was very close. We matched the time in Montreal and today we missed out by two hundredths of a second but a great performance by Max and the Team.

“Equally good to see Checo stepping back into Q3. He will have some work to do with the three place penalty putting him in 11th but it’s all to play for tomorrow. We’ve done some good work overnight; we’ve improved the car which sees us on the front row in a very good position.

“It’s one of the longest runs to turn one of the year so starting in second place is not necessarily a disadvantage. There’s also some chance of rain, particularly in the morning so it could be another really exciting race day.

“I don’t think this race will just be about the start, it’s going to be about the tyres, the degradation and how the left-hand tyres survive.,” predicted Horner, whose team is top of the F1 Constructors’ Championship points table.