Nowhere near Max levels yet

Red Bull, Verstappen relishing challenge of toppling Mercedes again at Spanish GP

Red Bull's Max Verstappen (left) is second and 30 points behind Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in the drivers' championship after five races this season.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen (left) is second and 30 points behind Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes in the drivers' championship after five races this season.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BARCELONA • Fresh from winning last Sunday's 70th Anniversary race at Silverstone, Max Verstappen returns to the scene of his maiden Formula One triumph seeking to intensify his title challenge with the 10th win of his career at this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix.

The Dutchman was only 18 when, on his debut with Red Bull, he took full advantage of a first-lap collision involving both Mercedes drivers, to surge to victory in the 2016 race.

Four years on, the Silver Arrows will not only be keen to avoid a similar scenario to that torrid afternoon, but they will also hope that they do not have the same tyre wear and blistering problems that afflicted both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas last Sunday.

Tyres are expected, once again, to be a key factor in deciding the outcome at the Circuit de Catalunya, where high temperatures may also influence the result, notably because the race, scheduled originally to take place in May, was pushed back due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Air temperatures are forecast to be in the high twenties, cooler than at sweltering Silverstone, but still warmer compared to the originally scheduled date.

To Mercedes' relief, Pirelli has said it will revert to its harder tyre compounds, instead of the extra-soft tyres used at Silverstone, where Hamilton suffered a last-lap puncture in one race and struggled with severe blisters in the other.

"It's a different track so let's see how competitive we are against Mercedes this time and how the temperatures impact everyone," said Verstappen, who is 30 points behind six-time world champion Hamilton after five races.

"The Barcelona track is quite hard on the tyres, so I'm not sure how they will hold out in the heat - there will be a lot of unknowns as we usually race there earlier in the year, but I'm looking forward to it.

"After the win last weekend, I'm excited to get back on track. It was a massive team achievement for us and for Honda to win - an amazing result, if a bit unexpected.

"It just shows that if you keep pushing towards one goal, then great results are always possible."

Mercedes performance boss Andrew Shovlin admitted the team are anticipating another difficult weekend for the third race in a row.

ALWAYS A CHANCE

After the win last weekend, I'm excited to get back on track... It just shows that if you keep pushing towards one goal, then great results are always possible.

MAX VERSTAPPEN, Red Bull driver, ended Mercedes' perfect start to the season with a win last Sunday. He is eyeing his 10th career win this weekend in Barcelona.

"We'd be foolish to say that we are not going to see this (tyre) problem again and we are not going to see it in Spain," he said. "We need to be looking at solutions and if we can make good progress and understand the nature of our problem, then we can get on top of it.

"But there's no doubt Spain is going to be tough."

Separately, Racing Point yesterday confirmed their driver Sergio Perez had finally tested negative for Covid-19, enabling him to race in Barcelona on Sunday.

The Mexican has been sidelined for the past two races after becoming the first F1 driver to contract the virus, with Germany's Nico Hulkenberg acting as his stand-in.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS


SPANISH GRAND PRIX

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2020, with the headline 'Nowhere near Max levels yet'. Subscribe