Red Bull Racing chief advisor Dr Helmut Marko doesn’t think Max Verstappen is the favourite to win the Dutch Grand Prix, despite the reigning World Champion having claimed pole position at Zandvoort.
Verstappen is aiming for back-to-back victories at his home race, with the Dutchman having put himself in the best position to do so after claiming pole.
Pole position wasn’t something Verstappen was expected to claim, after what has been a challenging weekend so far for Red Bull in the Dutch seaside town.
Verstappen missed virtually the entirety of FP1 after suffering a gearbox failure, which saw his RB18 grind to a halt out on the circuit.
Even by the end of FP2 Friday afternoon, Verstappen was still some way off the frontrunners, after ending the opening day just inside the top 10.
This was still better than team-mate Sergio Pérez, who has had a nightmare weekend so far.
The Mexican was P12 by the end of the first day and only managed to qualify in fifth for Sunday’s race.
The Red Bull driver left the Mercedes F1 Team frustrated on Saturday, after the Mexican span at the final corner at the end of Q3, resulting in a yellow flag.
This meant both Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell had to abort their final lap, due to being behind Pérez on the circuit.
Red Bull may have been grateful that Pérez spun, as Hamilton was just a tenth of a second off Verstappen’s time by the end of the second sector.
Hamilton will instead start fourth, with Charles Leclerc lining up in second alongside Verstappen.
The race looks set to be incredibly close, with Marko insisting that a podium is “fine” for Red Bull, with a victory clearly believed to be off the cards for the championship leader following their Friday woes.
“Perez is usually a second slower than Max on Fridays, so the data is of limited value,” the 79-year-old said.
“The first laps Verstappen did gives us optimism that we can still fight with the leaders.
“We probably won’t even use the hard tyres in the race which is why we put it on in the first practice to get rid of them. On those tyres, we felt good.
“We will still be able to fight for a podium and that’s fine for us for now,” insisted Marko.
The Dutch GP appears to be a six-way fight, with Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes all capable of virtually identical pace.
Overtaking should be slightly easier as well down the main straight, with the DRS activation zone now before the banked final corner.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff thinks people need to calm down slightly, with many placing bets that the Silver Arrows will claim their first win of the season in front of Verstappen’s home crowd.
Wolff believes the team can “fight back”, with a victory being needed before the end of the season to extend their streak of winning a race every season since 2012.
“Before the summer break, people were giving us a good chance of winning and then at Spa-Francorchamps we were written off,” Wolff told De Telegraaf.
“Now after Friday practice in Zandvoort they think we are going to win again. Formula 1 is very manic-depressive like that.
“But I think that with the current rules, the different times in the wind tunnel and the budget cap, we can fight back. But it will be very tough, because Red Bull is doing a great job at the moment.”