Max Verstappen hopes Red Bull can challenge Mercedes in the Belgian Grand Prix, but believes Ferrari may be out of reach on evidence of Friday Formula 1 practice running.
Ferrari locked out the top two in both of Friday’s sessions, with pacesetter Charles Leclerc more than eight tenths clear of both Mercedes cars, while Verstappen ended FP2 1.271 seconds off the pace in sixth – behind Racing Point’s Sergio Perez.
Though the top cars were more evenly matched on long runs, Verstappen – who said he had to run in a lower power mode than usual – doubted Ferrari can be toppled.
“This track definitely suits them a bit better than us, they are very strong, they gain a lot of time on the straight here but that is not a surprise,” said Verstappen of Ferrari.
“We try to do the best we can from our side. Today was not amazing as we had to run with lower power all day compared to the normal mode we use on a Friday, but in general I am quite happy with the car balance.
“I don’t expect to beat Ferrari but hopefully we can be closer to Mercedes, as it seems like they are a bit down to Ferrari.”
Asked whether Red Bull could still find a better balance between low drag for the straights and downforce for the tehcnical middle sector, Verstappen said: “I don’t think there is much you can do now.
“Everyone is running really low downforce, so I think the next step we can do is take the wing off – but I don’t think that is really smart.”
While new team-mate Alexander Albon debuted Honda’s upgraded ‘Spec 4’ engine on Friday, and is set to start from the back of the grid as a result, Verstappen is continuing with an older power unit.
He reported a loss of power on multiple occasions in FP2, but indicated this was due to the mileage previously accrued by his Friday engine.
“My engine was a bit older and around here it’s quite hard on the engine, so you need to be safe with them,” he explained.
“We still have another engine – that engine we’ll use tomorrow, and then we’ll see.
“Ferrari will be very strong, [but] from our side we can go a lot faster as well. Today we didn’t have our normal performance.
“It’s not a concern. We knew it was coming up. You have few engines you can use [over a season], and of course some of them are getting a bit older.”