Max Verstappen admits that he and the Red Bull Racing team still have ground to make up on their F1 rivals after a tough opening day at the Grand Prix of Europe.
The young Dutch driver had to sit out much of the first practice session on the new Baku street circuit after his RB12 developed a technical problem that left it smoking its way back to the pits and then spent much of the evening session dialling the car into the quirky layout, which blends high-speed straights with a tight section around the old town.
Verstappen eventually wound up seventh-fastest, three places ahead of RBR team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who wiped the right-hand side off his car in the day's only notable accident, but railing a host of Mercedes-powered rivals as well as former Toro Rosso team-mate Carlos Sainz.
“Of course, if you don't do that many laps in the first free practice – well, only three and they are not on the limit - you miss a little bit of car set-up and then, from a driver point of view, you want more laps to get comfortable. That's why the second practice was also not perfect for us, so we definitely have some work to do.”
Mercedes clearly appears to have superior pace on the 3.7-mile layout, with the anticipated Renault and Ferrari-powered frontrunners struggling to match up. Verstappen, however, is confident that the 1.8secs gap between himself and pacesetter Lewis Hamilton can be trimmed ahead of Sunday's race.
“I am not shocked, it's okay,” he insisted, “We still need to find a bit, but we have some very clever engineers up there to solve the problem.”
One solution that Verstappen, Ricciardo and Red Bull won't
be trying in qualifying is slipstreaming, despite the obvious benefits of a tow down the longest straight on the F1 schedule.
“It would always help, but the problem is that you don't have so much time in qualifying,” the Dutchman explained, “If one guy has to give up one lap, there's maybe a chance he doesn't make it to the next qualifying, so it will be tricky. For sure though, it gives you three or four tenths...”