Max Verstappen has admitted Red Bull had more pace in hand in Qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix, while his rivals have played down their chances of even finishing on the podium.
Verstappen’s first run in Q3 was good enough to beat Carlos Sainz by 0.462s, with Lando Norris taking third for McLaren.
The Dutchman, who leads the championship by 39 points from team-mate Sergio Perez, went out for a second run but aborted it when no one else was able to get close to his time.
“For the whole weekend it has been really enjoyable to drive the car. Of course you always try to find little improvements on the car but, it’s been really good,” said Verstappen.
“Going into Q3 I knew there was quite a bit of potential left in the car so I could finally push it to the limit in that first run and the car was really quick. Then, of course we went out again for the second run and that would have been even better.
He continued: “I have to say from the start the car was pretty good. I only made tiny little adjustments, but I felt comfortable straight away in long runs and short runs.
“It’s never easy to get to the limit in a Formula 1 car but it’s been very enjoyable to drive. It gives you a lot of confidence and when you have all that, you know, you can really push it to the limit.”
Horner: Verstappen ‘in a patch of form’
Red Bull have won each of the six races so far this season and many believe the RB19 is one of the most dominant cars in modern F1.
Verstappen has had the upper hand on Perez at the last two events in Miami and Monaco, a theme which has continued this weekend at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
“He’s hit a patch of form. In Monaco he was unbelievable and he’s carried that out though here and the car is working tremendously well,” Christian Horner told Sky Sports F1.
The run to Turn One is one of the longest on the F1 calendar, so Verstappen could come under pressure at the start, and Horner isn’t taking anything for granted.
Asked whether there is any competition, the Red Bull team principal answered: “The weather, reliability, the start, strategy, how the tyres behave. There’s so many things.
“Last weekend we felt didn’t play into the strengths of the car but this weekend it does and he has made great use of that.”
Sainz: Tough to get second, should be a good fight
Sainz will start on the front row on home soil for the first time in his career, but Ferrari’s race pace has been their biggest weakness this year.
But, their upgrades, including new sidepods, appeared to help that if Friday’s long runs are anything to go by. However, Sainz isn’t sure if he can keep second place.
“It will be still tough to get [second],” he said. “As soon as I get back to the engineers they will tell me that the simulation suggests that the Red Bull [of Sergio Perez] should still finish ahead of us.
“Then it will be a fight with Lando and the Mercedes and the Astons. I don’t know exactly what happened to them today, but they normally have really good race pace.
“I think it’s still going to be a tough, tough call to get a podium tomorrow. We put ourselves in the best possible position to achieve that, but I still think it’s going be a good fight for it tomorrow.”
Norris: Hopefully we get another surprise
Norris’ third place was a surprise after McLaren’s difficult 2023, which has seen them fall back in the pecking order.
The British driver afterwards said he was weary of saying McLaren were “amazing or exceptional” in qualifying.
When asked by Sky Sports F1 what his target was for the race, he replied: “To hold on for dear life for the top 10! We’ll see. We weren’t expecting to be so good today. If I’d made one little mistake I’d be four, five or six positions back.
“I’ll give myself a little bit of credit but at the same time that can easily turn around in terms of actual race pace. Red Bull always take a step forward on Sunday, the Astons are always incredible on Sunday on race pace. I wouldn’t say it’s our strongest area, but hopefully it’s another surprise like today.”
Alonso targeting top five
Fernando Alonso believes his run-off in Q1 cost him around two tenths of a second for the rest of Qualifying due to potential floor damage.
Alonso went all-in at the end of Q3 with one lap on soft tyres, but a mistake at Turn 10 means he will start down in ninth.
“Maybe the podium is a little bit too far away. Top five is something we should target. We have good pace, good degradation,” said the Aston Martin driver.
“Let’s see with the new layout if it’s easier or worse to overtake and what we can do with strategy. But today, was not my best day and I’m sorry for the team and fans. Tomorrow is the race and we will give it our all.”
Hamilton ‘encouraged’ by Mercedes pace
Lewis Hamilton will start in fourth, after overcoming contact with team-mate George Russell in the second part of Qualifying.
Mercedes brought a big upgrade package to Monaco, but the unique slow-speed nature of the track meant little representative data was gained, whereas the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is the perfect venue for new parts.
Hamilton was surprised to be fighting for a front row spot, before he also made an error at the same corner as Alonso when it mattered most.
“I really enjoyed driving the car today. I was basically front row all the way until Turn 10. I’ve got into Turn 10, got on the power and the car snapped into oversteer,” explained the seven-time world champion.
“I have to see exactly what happened. That’s where I lost two tenths. I’m not killer-disappointed. Maybe if I was fighting for a world championship I would be.
“I’m more encouraged to see the car where it is and hopefully tomorrow we can progress forwards.”
Sky Sports F1’s live Spanish GP schedule
Sunday June 4
8.50am: F3 Feature Race
10.20am: F2 Feature Race
12.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday Spanish GP build-up
2pm: THE SPANISH GRAND PRIX
4pm: Chequered Flag Spanish GP reaction
5.45pm: Indy NXT – Detroit GP
8pm: IndyCar – Detroit GP
Will Red Bull’s winning run in F1 2023 continue at the Spanish GP? Watch all the action live on Sky Sports F1 from 12.30pm on Sunday. Get Sky Sports