Red Bull opted to promote Verstappen ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, moving him up from Toro Rosso where he enjoyed a 3-1 qualifying record against team-mate Sainz this season. Since moving to Red Bull, Verstappen has yet to outqualify Ricciardo and says he has to improve his performances on Saturdays.
"Definitely the first two weekends there was a lot of learning to do," Verstappen said. "The last two or three have been a bit unlucky as well. With the red flags in Baku I could not do my lap, and before that it was good.
"In Austria it was again very good, but then in my Q2 run there was something odd going on with the recharge mode, so I arrived on the straight with much less power, and I lost quite a bit of time there. It is all going pretty well, it is just not showing yet in the results in qualifying.
"But it is getting there. And you should not forget I am driving next to someone who is really quick. So it is a bit different approach for me now, I have to up my game from where I was before in Toro Rosso because he is very quick.
"[Ricciardo] is on top of that. Of course maybe he has had some struggles in the race, but that is also where I enjoy it – that is my part, the race. I just need to find a way how to get it a bit better in qualifying. But it is not dramatic, it is always I am [just] behind him or one after that, so it I not a massive thing."
And Verstappen says his results in races - where he has outscored Ricciardo by seven points over their five races as team-mates - are more important than the qualifying battle.
"A little bit, but I learn a lot from it, and that is my approach to this season in general, just learn a lot to be ready for next year. And yes he is on top of that. I am definitely catching up, and the last two weekends have not shown what I am capable of in qualifying, so I am actually not too worried.
"And at the end you can do a great qualifying lap but it is all about the race where you score the points, and so far that is going really well. So I don’t really have a lot to complain about. I am very happy at the moment."