Verstappen ‘in no-man’s land’ with fifth place on the grid

Max Verstappen said that qualifying in fifth place for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix was as good as Red Bull could have got in the circumstances.

Ferrari managed to successfully lock out the front row in Saturday’s qualifying session at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, while the second row went to the two Mercedes cars.

That left Verstappen as ‘best of the rest’ in fifth place, where he will starting alongside Haas’ Romain Grosjean.

“We tried to make the most of it and fifth was the maximum result today,” the Dutch driver said. “Monza is the most difficult track for us, so fifth was what we expected already before the weekend.

“It’s quite normal where we are so it’s not a disappointment. We just tried to do the best qualifying we could. We can’t really do much more.”

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However he was disappointed with the gap between him and the cars in front. He was almost one and a half seconds off Kimi Raikkonen’s pole time, and nearly a second slower than Valtteri Bottas in fourth.

“It’s quite painful how much we lose on the straight but it is what it is,” he sighed, despite upgrading to the C-Spec Renault power unit on Saturday.

“I noticed a difference with the new engine today, maybe one and a half tenths,” he reported. “It’s a little improvement and at least I’m happy with that but for sure we need much bigger steps to be really competitive.

“I didn’t have a slip stream in my final run in Q3,” he pointed out. “[But] I don’t think we would’ve been further up the grid, even if we’d had one. Perhaps we would’ve been a bit closer.

“We’re pretty far off the front,” he continued, conceding that the same will probably be true in the race. “The Ferraris and Mercedes will be too quick for us. We’ll drive our own race and see if something happens in front of us.

“We will have a one-stop strategy, I guess like everyone. I don’t think it really matters what we do, if we stay out long or short, I think we just try to have a clean start and take it from there.

“Behind me, there is essentially no competition so we’re really in a kind of no-man’s land.”

Meanwhile his team mate Daniel Ricciardo made a point by finishing fourth in the first round of qualifying, but thereafter sat out Q2 in the knowledge that grid penalties for new power unit components will means that he starts from the back regardless.

“We will be starting on the back or second to back row tomorrow, so we decided that putting more miles on the new engine wasn’t worth risking,” said Ricciardo.

“If we thought we had the chance of setting a pole time, even with the penalties, then maybe we would have risked finishing qualifying. But the Ferraris and Mercs are too quick.

“The lap I did was encouraging, and having done that lap I have more confidence going into the race tomorrow. We have a better set-up and it should be fun.

“We will come through the field, brake late and hopefully finish up with some good points.”

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