Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has admitted surprise over being able to split the Mercedes drivers during qualifying for Formula 1’s Russian Grand Prix.
It marks just the second time this year that Verstappen has qualified in the top two positions, as he eyes up his seventh podium of the season on Sunday.
Following Friday practice, the Dutchman stated he was anticipating a fight to qualify third, but instead enjoyed a more positive session than he originally calculated.
“I knew we were going to be more competitive than where we were [on Friday],” Verstappen said.
“But it’s a surprise to be on the front row that’s for sure. I’m just happy with the improvements we did make overnight.
“I think also in the beginning of qualifying it looked quite tricky to be P3 but I think that was more because we didn’t really find a good balance initially because of the wind change.
“It seemed tricky to find the rear grip in some corners but Q3 we made a few changes and it seemed to work a bit better, so pleased with that.”
Verstappen managed to progress into Q2 on the Medium compound while Lewis Hamilton, who grabbed another pole position, was forced to switch to the Softs for his final hot lap in Q2.
Verstappen believes he is on the best strategy but is wary that he is starting on the dirty side of the track that contains discarded tyre rubber, which may offer a chance to Valtteri Bottas in P3, who will also start on the Mediums.
“I think for us it’s the best way going into the race,” Verstappen confirmed. Of course I’m starting a bit on the dirty side so I’m not sure how much that’s going to affect it.
“Overall I think the Mercedes guys are a bit faster in race pace so I’ll try my very best to stay with them and see what happens.
“But I’d like to have a good start, and by start I mean once I go full throttle to have full power would be nice, and then not get taken out, after two retirements I think it’s good to score some points again.”