Despite his stunning start to life in Milton Keynes, Max Verstappen has admitted that he didn't expect to find himself in the mix for podium finishes quite so soon in his Red Bull career.
The Dutchman won his debut for the team at the Spanish Grand Prix, just days after being plucked from Toro Rosso to replace an erratic Daniil Kvyat and, despite finding life a little tougher in Monaco, bounced back with a strong run to fourth place in last weekend's Canadian Grand Prix. Although Mercedes continues to set the pace, and Ferrari upped its game with its Montreal developments, Verstappen believes that Red Bull can still challenge for the top three.
“I think, in general, Canada was a very strong race, I think we maximised what we had and we scored some good points for the team, that was the most important thing,” he reflected, “Of course, the race in Canada could have been a bit better - we could have been on the podium if we got everything right - but I am pretty happy with the performance we have shown so far. I think the team didn't expect to be this competitive that early in this season, but I think it's too early to say where we are exactly. We can improve the car a bit, hopefully we can improve the engine a bit, everything together, but so far I think it hasn't been too bad.”
Having admitted that he was still leaning on team-mate Daniel Ricciardo for set-up advice, Verstappen conceded that it will take time before he is confident enough to strike out in his own direction.
“It's not really a guess,” he insisted, “It's just certain circumstances bring you a better performance window with the tyres, with the car, which I have to understand because the approach of the car is completely different to a Toro Rosso. I just need to get some more experience. It's difficult to say [how long it will take], I just need more experience and I'm confident that we'll be alright.
“It's getting better and, I think, in terms of race pace, it's very positive so far, so that means that the set-up we have works in the race. Now I just need to find a way to get a bit more out of it in qualifying. At the end, though, you score the points in the race so you have to make a bit of a compromise in that.”
Coming from a Toro Rosso line-up where he and team-mate Carlos Sainz were pretty close on one lap pace, Verstappen admits that being paired with Ricciardo presents a new challenge.
“He's definitely very quick,” the teenager grinned, “It's something which I expected, to be honest. I'm still very new in the car and it will only get better. I already feel pretty good and, like I said, it will get better time by time, race by race.”
Known for his maximum attack approach, however, Verstappen admits that he may have to rein in his natural instincts while he learns the Baku street circuit this weekend, despite having logged a lot of virtual laps in the simulator.
“You definitely build it up, but it's a bit like Monaco, so the first practice is just about getting the laps in and feeling a bit more comfortable and seeing what is the right wing level because, on this track, it's a bit more difficult than Monaco,” he reasoned, “There, you just go maximum downforce but, here, because of the long straight, you have to judge a bit where you want to gain the lap time.
“I've kissed the wall a few times but, in the simulator, it is very easy to do that. Every track you almost crash at every corner in the sim because you just press the restart button and the car is there again in one piece.”