Max Verstappen admits that Ferrari have the edge over Red Bull this weekend after a strong performance from the Scuderia throughout practice and qualifying thus far after Charles Leclerc took pole.
Leclerc and Carlos Sainz set an impressive 131 laps between them over the course of free practice, romping to the quickest lap times in each of the first two, before a variation of fuel loads led to Lando Norris taking top spot on Saturday morning.
Verstappen ended the second session second, while he was fourth and seventh in the first and third respectively as he attempted to find a satisfactory balance in his Red Bull.
He revealed at the end of Saturday’s final run before qualifying that he struggled to find track space for a clean run, but overall managed to edge closer to the sweet spot.
“I had a car in front of me on my final lap, so that didn’t help,” he told F1 TV.
“But I think [in] FP1 and the beginning of FP2 we were lacking a bit of balance. Then I think for the final run, we changed the car around a bit and I felt a lot happier.”
The 24-year-old was optimistic that there was scope for the Milton Keynes-based squad to improve their performance and close in on the Prancing Horses.
“We’re a tiny bit off Ferrari, but I do think that we can maybe make it a little bit closer,” added Verstappen.
“They’re quick again, but in the long run [for us] everything looked quite stable and quite nice, so I’m happy about that. So we definitely made some good improvements today.”
Leclerc went on to take pole position later on in the afternoon, ahead of the reigning world champion following a stunning late lap, much to the Dutchman’s frustration.
“I didn’t really feel good in the car the whole weekend so far. I don’t think there’s been one lap where I actually felt confident so [it was] a bit of a struggle,” he told Johnny Herbert after qualifying.
“Of course second is still a good result but [I’m] just not feeling that great to go to the limit so we’ll try to analyse it.
“Probably in the race pace everything stabilises a little bit but for me this weekend so far has been all over the place.
“Of course I’m happy to be second but of course I think also as a team we want more.”
Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez will start the race third, but he is currently under investigation for failing to slow for yellow flags during Q2 in Melbourne.
Sainz suffered from starter issues on his final run, and will begin Sunday’s grand prix down in ninth as a result.