Verstappen needed “every ounce of performance” for P5, raising worrying concerns about gap to midfield ​

Max Verstappen admits it was an “all or nothing” drive during Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying to ensure Red Bull slimly kept its authority over their ‘best of the rest’ position.

The Dutchman finished qualifying with a five-thousandths-of-a-second gap back to Haas driver, Kevin Magnussen. An average human takes about a tenth of a second to blink.

“My single lap in Q3 was an all or nothing lap and I don’t think I left anything on the table,” Verstappen commented after the session. His Team Principal Christian Horner agreed, making the comment that Max needed “every ounce of performance.”

The result saw Red Bull checking their mirrors more than what they’re used to. In past years, despite unfavourable results in Bahrain, they’ve still managed to compete with Mercedes and Ferrari.

Pierre Gasly (left) leads Haas driver Kevin Magnussen during qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix (Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool).

But Saturday’s qualifying was a far cry from that – midfield teams, especially Haas, pressured Verstappen to the point where he had to produce a self-described “all or nothing lap”.

The gaps behind Verstappen were not large. The remaining five cars in Q3 – made up of the two Haas cars, both McLaren’s, and Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo – all finished within three tenths of Verstappen.

Red Bull’s other driver, Pierre Gasly, didn’t even make Q3. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Toro Rosso’s Alexander Albon were both able to finish ahead of the Frenchman’s best effort, leaving him to start from 13th.

“It is really important to put everything together but it just didn’t happen today,” Gasly said.

Pierre Gasly (pictured) didn’t even make the final part of qualifying on Saturday, leaving him to start Sunday’s race in 13th (Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool).

Bahrain hasn’t been a proving ground for Red Bull in the tubro-hybrid era. In the five races since 2014, they’ve only managed two fourth places, in 2014 and 2016 – the two years where they eventually beat out Ferrari in the Constructors Championship.

This year’s qualifying performance broke with a pattern that’s prevailed during recent runnings of the Bahrain Grand Prix. In 2018, Ricciardo qualified fifth for Red Bull, but finished nearly a second ahead of the car behind him but within two-tenths of Lewis Hamilton ahead of him.

The year before that, in 2017, Red Bull was mixed in with Ferrari when Ricciardo and Verstappen qualified fourth and sixth. The results that year indicated the front three were Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull – and they all held a significant gap back to the midfield.

The past two years show Red Bull have been competitive with Formula 1’s two behemoths, which is starkly different to the result of Saturday’s session.
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On Saturday, Red Bull’s quickest effort just edged out the midfield whilst finishing half-a-second adrift of the nearest frontrunner. For 2019, the gap to Mercedes and Ferrari has grown, while the gap to the midfield has shrunk.

“I am of course not happy to be behind Ferrari and Mercedes,” Verstappen said after qualifying, “but I’m almost pleased to be fifth, because after Q1 and Q2 it looked like we may not be fighting for that.

“Both Red Bull drivers have pointed to setup issues as a root cause for this weekend’s pace deficit, more than an underlying problem with the RB15.

“Since the beginning of the weekend we have struggled, especially with the rear of the car,” Pierre Gasly said. The sentiment was shared by team-mate Verstappen, who said the problem was more prominent on the softer tyres used in qualifying.

Highlights from Saturday’s qualifying session in Bahrain.

“I had a lot of oversteer and the car was sliding when I put the power down,” Verstappen said, adding that the balance problems made it difficult to approach corners.

Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner said it was “fantastic” to qualify so closely to Red Bull. Kevin Magnussen, who finished just behind Verstappen said finishing so close was “a little unexpected.

“We were on par with them, and I hope we can give them a hard time in the race,” Magnussen said.

Red Bull remained confident their woes could be fixed over long runs, given their problems were exemplified by the softest qualifying tyre.

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner (pictured) is confident his team’s pace will pick up during Sunday’s Grand Prix (Image courtesy of Red Bull Content Pool).

“We have shown much better pace on the medium compound tyre and hopefully we will be able to make good use of that tomorrow,” Team Principal Christian Horner said.

He noted that this track, unlike Australia, is one known for overtaking.

Verstappen said the longer runs he did on Friday showed “good performance” and he remained confident Red Bull would be competitive in Sunday’s race.

“It will be interesting tomorrow,” he said.

Steven Walton

I founded Green Flag F1 as my own personal blog in 2015. Since then, I have covered every season of Formula 1. I try to find fresh, unique, and interesting stories to write about. One of my goals is to produce content you cannot find anywhere else.

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