Verstappen believes that “attention to detail will make the difference” as he expects “closer” racing for F1 Bahrain GP

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Reigning champion Max Verstappen delivered a strong performance in the first qualifying session of the season, securing pole position for Saturday’s opening round in Bahrain. 

Speaking in the post-qualifying press conference, Verstappen admitted that he had some doubts going into qualifying as the practice sessions yielded mixed results.

“Yeah, for sure it feels very good because I think if you look at the weekend so far, it didn’t come easily to us,” Verstappen said.

“Testing was very good but then it was very windy so far this weekend and it was just I think a bit more difficult to get the balance of the car together. It was just continuous work all the way to qualifying. And I do think that we made some good improvements on the car and I think that made us then do the lap in qualifying.

“I just had a bit more grip somehow, the first run it just didn’t really feel that great, the tyres never really switched on and then on the final lap yeah it just felt better from turn one.”

Qualifying, especially in Q2 and Q3, proved to be extremely competitive, which added an element of excitement and unpredictability. 

On his final run, Verstappen benefitted from a tow from Oscar Piastri’s McLaren, propelling him to a 1:29.179s. Leclerc wasn’t far behind, though—merely 0.228s off Verstappen’s pole time. 

“I think it was just a very tight qualifying,” Verstappen said. “I think it was just also very tricky conditions with the wind this whole weekend, so yeah just if you can get the lap together immediately you can find one, one half tenths in a corner and I think it just yeah was good for us in Q2, Q3, especially Q3 I would say.”

“It all just improved a little bit more, but I think throughout the whole of qualifying you could see the gaps were super close and I think you never really knew who was going to be on pole heading into Q3, so I think that was very exciting to see.”

While Verstappen trusts that the RB20 will be competitive in race conditions, he admitted that he expects the racing to be closer this year. 

“I mean we’ve done quite a few long runs now to the point where you almost get bored of it, but yeah I’m confident that we have a good race car.

“But I think also what you saw already yesterday in the long runs you know the gaps are small and it’s about you know attention to detail that will make the difference also tomorrow.

“It feels like [the racing is closer] because all the way until qualifying I didn’t have a good feeling where last year I think it was a bit better, we were a bit stronger throughout the whole weekend, so yeah we’ll see how that will evolve.”

Both Red Bull drivers reported upshift and downshift issues over team radio earlier in the weekend, but Verstappen clarified that these were just normal teething problems as he tried to find the optimal settings. 

“I mean, that is something that has been around for quite a while and you always try to optimise these things but that was not really the balance problem of the car.

“It was just trying to get in the right window with the front axle and the rear axle of the car, so you are either on the front axle or the rear or the other way around and it was all about trying to find that middle way and feel a bit more comfortable.

“Around a track like this, which is quite hard on tyres, the tarmac is very aggressive and one little slide or front lock up can cost you a lot of lap time. So it is about small little things that improve the car quite a bit.”