World champion Max Verstappen admitted on Thursday that his Red Bull team had learned from “a few wrong calls” at the recent Austrian Grand Prix and would face another fierce scrap for victory in Sunday’s French race. Speaking ahead of this weekend’s French Grand Prix, the 24-year-old Dutchman added that he hoped Mercedes, revived by another package of upgrades, would not join the expected fight with Ferrari for victory. “Maybe they are (a threat),” he responded, when asked about a challenge from seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. “I hope not!”
Red Bull and Ferrari have won all 11 races this year, but Mercedes hope their revival will continue on the smooth circuit with high-speed corners.
Verstappen leads the drivers’ title race with 208 points ahead of nearest rival Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on 170, the Monegasque driver having revived his challenge with victory in Austria a week after team-mate Carlos Sainz had won the British contest.
“I do think that we made a few wrong calls in Austria, in hindsight,” he told reporters. “But, of course, with a sprint weekend format it’s very hard to change that (car set-up) after first free practice and I think we learnt a lot from it.
“I think our top speed was still alright, but when you are losing in the corners a bit more than you would like, then it’s always going to be a tough day and that’s what happened.
“I hope that with the things we learned we are back to our normal form — but even when we are in normal form, I think it’s still going to be very tight for a race win. So, I expect the same here.”
Verstappen said he anticipated Ferrari to be strong again as they seek to complete a first hat-trick since 2019 and acknowledged that Hamilton could also compete at the front after reeling off three consecutive podium finishes.
Hamilton confirmed on Thursday that he remains optimistic of claiming a win this year to enable him to maintain his unique record as the only driver to have won a race in every season of his career.
After a disappointing opening to the season, Mercedes have regained speed and consistency with their upgrades and arrive at the Paul Ricard circuit in buoyant mood, hoping the smooth, fast and flowing layout will suit their car.
“I’m working towards getting that win and I do believe at some stage we will be able to compete with these guys, whether that’s this weekend or in five races time,” said Hamilton.
“The journey is the important part. We started off not where we wanted to be, we’ve made progress and we’ve started to hit a patch of consistency.
“When we do get back to where we deserve to be, I think we’ll appreciate it that much more.”
Hamilton is set to start his 300th Formula One race on Sunday, making him only the sixth driver to reach that total.
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