Max Verstappen thinks his Saturday weakness could be a Sunday strength after missing out on pole by just 0.003s with chronic balance problems.
Since he first got in the car on Friday, Verstappen has looked uncomfortable with the set-up of his upgraded Red Bull Racing machine. He regularly radioed his team during practice to ask if there was a problem with his car to explain its seemingly random handling behavior, notwithstanding the weekend’s blustery conditions.
Budapest fans were subsequently treated to the rare sight of the Dutchman having to set a banker lap in Q2 after having an earlier lap deleted for exceeding track limits. RBR sent him onto the track out of sync with the rest of the field to ensure the lap was clean, an unusually cautious approach for the runaway championship leader.
His car problems exacted maximum pain in Q3 when he was unable to improve on his provisional-pole time with his second lap, leaving him vulnerable to Hamilton’s response.
“Terrible,” Verstappen responded when asked how his car felt. “The whole qualifying I’ve been struggling a lot — all weekend really — with a shifting balance. It was just never in a good window.
“There’s not much you can do…once you go into qualifying. Every time I got the apex of the corner it was just not gripping up for me. That’s probably the worst balance I can have in a car.
“I tried to correct a few things in Q3, but there’s only so much you can do.”
Verstappen explained his biggest problem was understeer, though the car’s response varied as he progressed through the qualifying segments.
“I thought my first (Q3) lap wasn’t too bad. It still felt like driving on ice on the front axle. Just very peaky. Then in the second lap, already the first sector was just off. Then I just risked a bit more in sector two, which paid off, but then in the last sector I, again, lost the front.
“It was really inconsistent and difficult to be progressive through qualifying. It was just hit and miss all the time.”
The runaway title leader was cautiously optimistic the problems that afflicted his qualifying pace might actually work to his benefit in the grand prix, though he expected to have a fight on his hands.
“I think today we just lacked a bit, but that’s over one lap,” he said. “Tomorrow’s going to be even warmer. With the balance I had toady, that’s probably not a bad thing.
“I don’t expect it to be a very straightforward race. I expect us to be quick, but around here it’s not easy to pass, especially when you’re quite closely matched in pace. When (Mercedes are) up front in qualifying, normally their race car is also quite strong.”
Red Bull Racing brought a major update package to the Hungaroring weekend in what was billed as a precursor to a potentially crushing step forward for the already-dominant RB19. Instead, the car has fallen back into the clutches of the lower frontrunners.
Verstappen said there was no correlation between the new parts and the unexpected loss of pole, pointing only to missed set-up opportunities for creating a gap between the Red Bull and Hamilton.
“The upgrade looks good. We just didn’t nail the balance of the car, simple as that,” he said. “We tried quite a few things but we just didn’t do the right thing in the end.
“Sometimes it happens. I think, so far, for most of the year, we’ve actually nailed it. For basically all the qualifyings, I was always quite happy.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work out. That’s how it goes. You cannot always be perfect — I know that. But I want to always try and be as close as possible to perfection.”