Max Verstappen Rivals Racing For Second In Bahrain

Formula 1 Testing In Bahrain Day 1
Formula 1 Testing In Bahrain Day 1

George Russell admits the entire Formula 1 field, except for Max Verstappen, will be “racing for second” as the 2024 season begins in Bahrain on Saturday.

However, the Mercedes driver – third behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and the predictably pole-sitting Red Bull – admitted that the qualifying gap to Verstappen was actually smaller than expected.

“We’re expecting probably a half second deficit in race pace,” Russell said – with Verstappen hitting back that the half-second gap is “way too big”.

On a qualifying lap, however, in Dr Helmut Marko’s words, “we have opponents who can beat us”.

Ferrari boss Frederic Vasseur agrees: “On one lap we are on the same level as Red Bull. But we’ve caught up on the long run too. How much? I’ll tell you after the race.”

Toto Wolff agrees that the new Mercedes might also have run Verstappen close for pole on Saturday, but the team was too conservative in view of setting up for in-race tyre wear.

“Unfortunately,” Vasseur said, “Red Bull is good at both. They have the best car and they push themselves to the limit the most.”

Marko thinks the impressive new Red Bull has struggled somewhat at the colder-than-usual Bahrain this year, as well as in the gusty winds.

“We worked on it for two days and in the end the Max factor saved us,” Red Bull’s top Austrian consultant smiled to Servus TV.

Marko, who wagered on Verstappen just missing out on pole to Leclerc, admitted he lost a 50 euro bet with Verstappen’s race engineer.

“Half of this amount has to be given to Max,” Marko grinned again. “He’s a tough negotiator!

“But we know that our long runs are relatively better than qualifying speed. That’s why we can be fairly optimistic about the race.

“As expected, Leclerc was fast in qualifying. And although Max did not drive the third sector optimally, it was still enough to be on pole. A good start,” he added.

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