Red Bull boss Christian Horner hailed Max Verstappen’s impressive pole position for the French Grand Prix as a significant moment in the 2021 Formula 1 world championship.
The Circuit Paul Ricard has been a particularly happy hunting ground for rivals Mercedes ever since its return to the calendar in 2019, with the team securing front row lock-outs in both previous events held her.
But in Saturday’s qualifying session, neither Lewis Hamilton nor Valtteri Bottas were able to stop Verstappen claiming the top spot for Sunday’s race.
- QUALIFYING: Verstappen seizes pole for French GP from Mercedes
“This has traditionally not been an amazing track for us so to put it on pole here we’re super happy about that,” Verstappen said in parc ferme after the end of the session.
“I knew it was going to be better than the last time we were here, but this good, I didn’t expect,” he admitted. “That’s of course very promising for us.
“From yesterday, FP2, we made a good step forward, and basically that continued today,” he continued. “The conditions in FP3 were a little bit different but we showed again in qualifying we had been good pace.
“Of course we just have to keep on going, keep on pushing, to try and make it better,” he added.
Verstappen’s success was hailed by the team’s motorsports consultant Helmut Marko. “It was relatively easy,” he told Austria’s ServusTV. “A pole is never easy, but I mean in terms of a combination of car, engine and driver.”
“Overall we are in a good position for tomorrow in the race,” Marko added. “We want to win the start, pull away at the front, take a second [lead] because the straights are long here and the DRS effect is strong.
“Then you control the race at the front. That is the theory we have. Mercedes certainly have one too, but I think it could work for us,”
As for Horner, the team principal told Sky Sports F1 that Verstappen’s success at such a traditionally strong Mercedes circuit spoke volumes.
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“It certainly gives us more confidence,” he said. “This circuit has been such a stronghold for Mercedes over recent years. If we can beat them here, then we can beat them anywhere.
“We’ve taken a bit of the downforce out of the car – you can probably see by the size of the rear wing between us and Mercedes,” he explained. “We’re using less energy in sector two so we are going faster down the straight because we have less resistance there.
“Bt we are still managing to do a very good time in sector three,” he pointed out. “That’s helping us to generate a competitive lap time around here and hopefully we will be good for the race tomorrow.”
“Let’s see how tomorrow goes,” he cautioned. ““We are in good shape for tomorrow’s race. It’s important we get good starts, execute good pit stops, good strategy. We’ve got to do all the basics well.
“And yeah, it’s phenomenal for the team to have both cars up there,” he added, with Verstappen’s team mate Sergio Perez set to start alongside Bottas on the second row.
“The great thing for us this weekend is that we have Checo up there as well. You saw what a job he did in Baku two weeks ago, and having two cars in play gives you different strategic options.”
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