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Formula 1

Verstappen’s not enjoying qualifying in the 2022 Red Bull

by Edd Straw
4 min read

Max Verstappen says that set-up struggles have made Formula 1 qualifying “not very enjoyable” this season, describing his Australian Grand Prix weekend so far as “terrible” after losing out on pole position to Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc by 0.286s.

Verstappen has yet to take a pole position in 2022 so far, with Leclerc making it two from three races in Australia.

While Red Bull has been stronger on race pace, with Verstappen winning in Saudi Arabia and challenging Leclerc for victory in Bahrain, qualifying has been more difficult despite Sergio Perez earning Saudi pole.

After taking second in qualifying in Australia, Verstappen said that he’s not been comfortable with the car on push laps all weekend and suggested this is a set-up problem that has afflicted the Red Bull RB18 throughout the season rather than being solely caused by the conditions and track configuration of Albert Park.

“It has a little bit to do with it,” said Verstappen when asked by The Race if the qualifying struggles were track-specific or a characteristic of the car.

“But so far in qualifying, it’s not been amazing, just because of not having a great balance.

“And of course, when I come back after the grands prix, I go on the simulator to try to find a good base set-up but all the time when I get to the track I face difficulties.

“So I need to understand why that is because at the moment, it’s just been not very enjoyable.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Melbourne, Australia

Verstappen’s final Q3 lap was strong and he was fractionally ahead of Leclerc entering the penultimate corner.

This means that the whole advantage of almost three tenths of a second that Leclerc had was built in the final two corners.

Verstappen referenced his struggles to piece together a strong qualifying lap, admitting that even when the car felt good on his first Q3 run a “random balance shift” caused a lock-up.

This might have led to the time loss on his final lap, as he locked up into the penultimate corner on his first Q3 lap and went wide, meaning he was possibly more conservative and lost time on his final lap as a result.

“It’s been terrible for me, the whole weekend so far,” said Verstappen.

“Just not a good balance, all the time chasing something and I never felt comfortable for one lap – except the long runs.

“It’s just been a big struggle and clearly we didn’t really seem to fix it, even in qualifying.

“I just struggled a lot with the balance of the car and it just doesn’t give you confidence to push.

“Also, my first run in Q3, it started to feel a bit better and I was actually hooking it up, but then I locked up again in one corner just because of a random balance shift. So it’s not been great, to be honest.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Melbourne, Australia

Perez, who qualified third within a tenth of a second of Verstappen, said he struggled with the best approach to take with the Pirelli tyres on the resurfaced Albert Park track.

He described the tyres as very sensitive and said that carrying fuel for a second lap on his final run was unnecessary.

“The whole qualifying I never really felt that I knew which strategy was the best in terms of the tyres,” said Perez.

“The tyres have been very sensitive to the asphalt. It is the first time we run the C5 compound, so that was a little bit hard.

“Q2 went well, but then into Q3 with the red flag, we were not able to do our third lap so we went again for the same strategy.

“But unfortunately we carried the extra fuel. We really didn’t need it to find out that the third lap was not any better.”

Xpb 1137376 Hires

Team principal Christian Horner wasn’t disappointed with second and third on the grid given how close it was at the front.

He argued that both Verstappen and team-mate Perez were a threat for pole position.

“Both of them at different points looked like they might be able to nick the pole,” Horner told Sky Sports F1.

“So [for] Max that lock-up cost him probably about three-tenths and that would have put him very close to Charles’s time.

“Checo had a small de-rate on his first lap and carried an extra tenth [of a second] of fuel as well because he wanted to do three laps.

“I’m pretty happy with that. It was a great lap by Charles, but we’re still on the front row and P3.”

Xpb 1137333 Hires

Horner’s relaxed attitude to Red Bull missing out on pole position perhaps also reflects the fact that the RB18 is strong in race trim.

Verstappen’s eagerness to differentiate between how comfortable he was on long runs compared to single push laps indicates that the pattern of him being stronger in the race is likely to continue in Sunday’s race.

As Leclerc said, “we are very close with Red Bull, so it’s going to be close racing tomorrow”.

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