Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were left with mixed emotions after being unable to challenge Formula 1 rivals Mercedes during French Grand Prix qualifying. 

Verstappen, running on a low downforce set-up in a bid to gain back some of Red Bull’s straight-line speed deficit due to its Renault engine, finished 0.6s adrift of pole sitter Lewis Hamilton as he secured fourth place on the grid. 

Despite its attempt to limit its top speed disadvantage, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner claimed Verstappen was still losing as much as seven tenths of a second on Paul Ricard’s straights compared to its rivals. 

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"We are pretty much at Spa levels of downforce and unfortunately we are still seven tenths down on the straight," Horner told Sky Sports F1. “But both drivers have done a great job there. Fourth and fifth we can still race well from there.

"I think Mercedes have gone at this race - this tyre is really suiting their car on this surface, so as long as they don't screw it up tomorrow they are in pretty decent shape. But we have really got a race with Ferrari."

When asked if he felt fourth place was the maximum possible result, Verstappen replied: “Yeah. I think in Q3 it got a little bit more difficult with the front tyres, they didn’t grip up, especially in this track where there are a lot of long corners. You can’t really push the entries, and you’re just waiting for the front to turn. That was our limitation to go fast.”

Ricciardo stuck with a higher downforce setting after failing to test out Verstappen’s strategy when rain hit FP3, and is worried the decision not to follow his teammate’s direction could hurt him in the race.

“We split the cars yesterday on downforce levels,” Ricciardo explained. “Max [Verstappen] went low, I was higher. Obviously we were pretty evenly matched yesterday but it looked like the low was worth trying for sure so we put that on for this morning to try it out in FP3. [But I] didn’t get to try it because of the weather.”

Ricciardo revealed both he and his engineer opted to stick with the higher downforce set-up they were familiar with for qualifying. The Australian could only manage fifth as he ended up 0.2s down on Verstappen’s time, though he did out-qualify Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari. 

“We still had a lot of front wing in hand because with more downforce you’re probably going to understeer and you’re going to need more front wing,” he said “But at the end of Q1 we’d already used every bit of front wing we had and we still had understeer.

“It was a little bit slow on the straights but also we couldn’t balance it. With what you could do in qualifying that was it. A frustrating session because obviously if you’ve got understeer you know you can do other things with the car but in quali your hands are tied.”

Ricciardo hopes his set-up will still pay off in the race should the rain return on Sunday. 

"Of course come 4.10pm [for the race] I will be confident, but on paper we are going to be pretty slow on the straight compared to the guys in front, but if it rains we might be the lucky dogs."

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