Verstappen admits 'Mercedes are on another level'

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Max Verstappen is still hoping that a third consecutive victory at Red Bull's home circuit in Spielberg, Austria is on the cards despite Mercedes' impressive margin in qualifying.

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton locked out the front row at the Red Bull Ring, with Verstappen third but half a second slower than the two Silver Arrows. That's a big margin to make up over such a short track.

“I am happy first of all to be P3," he told the media after the end of the session. "Today Mercedes was on a different level unfortunately.

"Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we’re a bit better in the race," he predicted.

Verstappen is hoping to steal a march over his rivals by going for a different tyre strategy for the race. He was the only one of the front runners to set his fastest time in Q2 on medium tyres when everyone else was on softs, which means that is the compound they will start the race on.

"We’ve a different starting tyre," he explained. "Now I am the only one on a different tyre in the top ten so I am just looking forward to it.

"We have nothing to lose so I try to make it as difficult as possible for them," he said, pointing out that the weather may also play a factor.

"Let’s see what we can do tomorrow," he said. "It’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be quite a bit warmer tomorrow so I hope it plays in our advantage."

Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing RB16 practices a pit stop.

As far off the pace of Mercedes as the RB167 proved to be in qualifying, it was still better than the rest - and significantly faster than the struggling Ferraris.

"I think you should ask Ferrari and their engineers," Verstappen said when asked why Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel had been so far off the pace. "I don't know. I'm driving a Honda-powered car, so I don't have any information why that is."

Vettel failed to make it through to the final round of qualifying, and it was a big leap in performance from Verstappen's team mate Alexander Albon that bumped him out of the top ten at the end of Q2.

Albon hoped to make it an all-Red Bull second row line-up for the starting grid, but was pipped in the final seconds of qualifying by an impressive effort from McLaren's Lando Norris.

Alexander Albon (THA) Red Bull Racing RB16.

Fifth place equals Albon's best qualifying performances of last year, but the Thai driver still felt he should have been able to do better.

"I’m not overly happy with my result," he admitted. "I struggled a bit at the beginning but by the end I was ok. We just weren’t able to maximise it today.

"I think we could have got better than P5," he told Sky Sports afterwards, explaining that he had been caught up in a brief period of yellow flags at the end of the session caused by an on-track excursion by Bottas.

"On my second Q3 run we got yellow flags after Bottas went off so that wasn’t ideal," he said. "On the first run in Q3 I was too far behind the pack.

"Although it’s not Monza, it’s similar here in that a slipstream is worth a good chunk of time.

"We could have gone quite a bit quicker if we'd been in the right position at the right time," he commented. "It would have been closer to Lando, but I'm don't know if it would have been quicker than him. Not really sure to be honest.

"But I think that's just part of it," he shrugged. "I think I'm happy I got P5. I thought it would be worse than that!

"Let’s see how our race pace is tomorrow."

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