Verstappen record bid under serious threat


The result of the second practice session for the Australian Grand Prix was quite striking, with Max Verstappen finishing almost four-tenths of a second slower than Charles Leclerc.

There was arguably an extenuating circumstance as Verstappen struck a kerb around Melbourne’s Albert Park in his Red Bull, sustaining floor damage, in particular, that required a change and resulted in him missing the first 20 minutes of FP2.

The upshot was that Verstappen finished second quickest in both sessions, with a significant gap to Leclerc in the second.

There is a possible explanation. Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko indicated after the session that Leclerc’s qualifying run was on “full power”. Marko added that Red Bull “were not yet” at that stage. “Therefore, I don’t see the difference to Leclerc as a critical point,” he added.

It would suggest that the RB20 is quite a bit faster than the SF24 on the straight. On his qualifying run, Verstappen lost time, mainly in the first sector, where downforce is important besides top speed.

The second sector contains the longest straight, and there Verstappen lost ‘only’ seven-hundredths of a second compared to Leclerc. Normally, Red Bull is the team to beat when it comes to top speed, so that picture is consistent with recent weeks.

So do not be surprised if, as is often the case, the picture is particularly close in qualifying. Red Bull appears to have time in hand, which will further narrow the gap between Verstappen and Leclerc.

The dangerous outsider is Aston Martin, the team that has predominantly peaked in qualifying this season and also looked fast over one lap in Melbourne.

View the difference between Leclerc and Verstappen below. Article follows below.


In itself, it fits the picture of this season, that Ferrari is sitting pretty in qualifying before Verstappen makes the difference over the long runs in the race.

Now, however, the three-time F1 champion appears to be facing a serious challenge from Ferrari, as well as McLaren for the first time. Leclerc drove an impressive long run on the medium tyres and managed to save his fastest lap until last. Lando Norris also improved over time and, like Leclerc, dipped into the 1:22 mark at the end of his stint.

Due to the time lost in the garage, Verstappen was unable to post a serious long-run outing. The Dutchman drove three laps on the mediums and did not come close to the times of Leclerc and Norris. His fastest time was a 1:23.068s.

For now, Sergio Perez’s times are a better indicator. The Mexican was occasionally faster than Leclerc in the early stages, but he had to concede time as the stint progressed. His final lap was a 1:22.0, though it did follow after a few interrupted laps. It shows that Ferrari and McLaren are certainly in better shape than they were in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Marko was also not entirely comfortable after the second free practice session. “Red Bull still needs to find time,” he remarked. “Our setup is not right yet. Leclerc’s long run was very impressive. Our car is not bad, but a lot of things still need to be fine-tuned. The field seems to be creeping closer together.”

And so it is by no means certain that Verstappen will again register a 10th successive victory, as he did last year to set a new F1 record.

Ferrari and McLaren look set to pose a threat in the race and will go into the rest of the weekend with hope. Will we get a serious battle for victory for the first time? It could happen.



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