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Formula 1

Verstappen: Monza shows 2020 Red Bull ‘just not very fast’

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

Red Bull’s slippage to the third row of the grid at the Italian Grand Prix has highlighted the main issue holding it back in Formula 1 this season: that its car is simply not fast enough.

Max Verstappen pulled no punches in the aftermath of a difficult Monza qualifying that leaves him fifth on the grid for Sunday’s race, behind a McLaren and a Racing Point, which team-mate Alex Albon ninth.

The power-sensitive Italian circuit has not been a happy hunting ground for Red Bull in recent years and Verstappen was adamant pre-weekend he did not see that changing.

But Red Bull falling behind two other teams was unexpected and the RB16’s sensitivity at low-downforce seems to be to blame.

With the FIA’s new technical directive regarding engine modes chipping away at a small amount of the Mercedes-engined cars’ advantage, and Honda theoretically having slightly less to lose, the Red Bull deficit should have shrunk this weekend.

Instead, Verstappen’s 1.151% pace loss to poleman Lewis Hamilton is almost identical to the team’s seasonal average (101.105%) and is a step backwards after the recent races in Belgium (100.519%) and Spain (100.937%).

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Monza, Italy

“It’s just not a good weekend for us,” said Verstappen. “Really, from the start, struggling for pace.

“It seems like at low downforce our car struggles a bit more with the sensitive rear just not really gripping up like it should do.”

Verstappen said he tried all sorts of aerodynamic configurations to try to boost his fortune but ended up with “the same laptime all the time – so it just shows our car’s not good enough at the moment”.

Red Bull motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko had been bullish ahead of Monza that the team’s car developments, including new parts at Spa last weekend, and the FIA’s technical directive would help it continue to chip away at Mercedes.

Spa was Verstappen’s first finish outside the top two in the last five grands prix but Monza has underlined the fact the RB16 still has an inherent weakness that a run of underdog heroics Verstappen has papered over.

Verstappen said the overall time loss showed that Red Bull has got something wrong at Monza, too. Compromises on wing levels have likely played a part, as Red Bull’s lower-downforce set-up (and a tow) appeared to cancel out Mercedes’ engine advantage on the straights. But the time loss in the corners, 0.9s, is significant.

“Of course we are a bit down on power to Mercedes, especially, and that’s a given,” he said.

“But that is not the deficit we have to them, at the moment. It’s not that big, the deficit in power.

“So, from our side we just didn’t have a good balance in the car. But not only that, I think we were just lacking grip.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Monza, Italy

The pace deficit to Mercedes is so severe that while Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas could run clear of the group in qualifying and not even worry about a tow, making use of another car’s slipstream was “very crucial” for Red Bull.

And Verstappen said it was wrong for anyone to have got carried away with hopes of an FIA technical directive overhauling the pecking order, which is something he refused to believe would happen.

He has maintained a “realistic” front all season, even when victory at Silverstone put him in a misleadingly close position to Hamilton in the championship.

While Verstappen says that may “sometimes sound a bit depressing” it prevents him from being “disappointed” by reality because he knows what to anticipate.

“I never expected to fight Mercedes here,” he said. “And I was very interested to see how our car was going to go on low downforce.

“But I think it highlighted our issues already the whole year. That it’s just not a very fast car.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Monza, Italy

Red Bull’s struggles were put into context by AlphaTauri, its junior team, which enjoyed a strong race at Spa with a low-downforce package and has shown a similarly impressive performance level through the Monza weekend so far.

Pierre Gasly was only 10th in Q3 but should have outqualified Albon, having lapped faster than both Red Bulls in Q1 and been only a tenth slower than Verstappen in Q2.

His Q2 lap would have been good enough for eighth had he repeated it in the shoot-out, indicating that Red Bull is further from optimising its chassis than fellow Honda team AlphaTauri, and the other low-downforce ‘specialists’ like McLaren and Renault.

So Monza is not playing to Red Bull’s strengths, and its car’s underlying lack of performance doesn’t bail the team out like at other tracks.

Albon said: “I look at the McLarens, the Renaults, the Racing Points, they tend to run a little bit less downforce in most tracks, if you take Silverstone or Spa for instance. So they have kind of a good compromise, low-downforce.

“And there’s not enough medium- to high-speed corners for us to extract that laptime back. That’s really where it is.”

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