“Let’s see how it goes tomorrow, but if we can beat Mercedes on this track then we can beat them everywhere.” The euphoria of the post-qualifying session, which saw Max Verstappen conquer the second pole position of the season, infected Christian Horner, who for the occasion did not mince words to describe the scope of Red Bull’s enterprise.
And, data in hand, Horner is right. The return to a permanent circuit, after the city stages of Monaco and Baku, could make us think that we would have restarted from the verdicts of Barcelona, or from a Mercedes capable of doing … Mercedes, and even Red Bull itself at Paul Ricard was ready to play in defense, aware of being on a track that in recent editions of the French Grand Prix has always seen the world champion team dominate from the top of absolute superiority.
In the light of the verdicts that emerged today, the reality that emerges is another, and if it is confirmed at the end of the 53 laps scheduled for tomorrow, it will be an important watershed in the World Championship.
Horner’s analysis is well founded, because the margin confirmed today in qualifying by Verstappen is probably what Mercedes thought on the eve of the weekend to be able to confirm on the Dutchman.
The ingredients to certify a technical reversal are all there, as confirmed by the data that emerged from the qualifications. The margin on the lap (0 “258) is not a small thing, as well as the 0” 161 confirmed in the third sector, the driven section of Paul Ricard.
“The decision to remove some aerodynamic load was very important – confirmed Horner – you can easily see it by comparing the size of our rear wing with the one used by Mercedes”.
“We have reduced drag in the second sector, while maintaining good speed in the third, a crucial balance on this track as confirmed by Checo’s fourth position. Obviously, confirmation will come tomorrow, but we are confident in the goodness of the work we have done so far” .
Hamilton and Bottas (back to important levels of performance this weekend) gave the impression of being able to undermine Red Bull in the first two sectors, but in the section between turns 9 and 11 Verstappen confirmed an important difference in step.
“We have seen many times this year that our race pace is better than in qualifying – commented Mercedes’ head of track operations, Andrew Showlin – and we have shown that we can also win races by starting with pursuers, so we are still optimistic that tomorrow we will fight for success ”.
A possible scenario, but judging by the euphoria confirmed by the Red Bull men it does not seem an easy undertaking.
“This result gives us confidence – continued Horner – let’s see how it goes tomorrow but this track has always been a Mercedes stronghold in recent years. If we can beat them here, then we can really beat them anywhere, so there’s a lot at stake ”.
In addition to the milestones, and the significance that a Red Bull victory would have on the technical front in perspective, there is also the psychological aspect, which should not be considered secondary. At the end of qualifying, the cameras photographed the verdicts of the track very well. While the Red Bull garage exploded with joy with mechanics and engineers embracing and cheering, in the adjacent garage the technicians exchanged a ‘punch’. The air has changed, and also in a sudden and unexpected way.
“In our case, lowering the working load would not have been the solution to the problems – commented Toto Wolff defending the choices of his technical staff – in the simulations the results were clear and in our case the performance would have been slower. There were no problems in terms of top speed, but we are convinced that if we had reduced the wing we would have paid a lot in the driven sections. “
“The challenge with Red Bull? We’ve had seven fantastic years, and none have been easy. This challenge is just a new level, and it’s fantastic, but it’s not a challenge to Christian (Horner), that’s not my goal.”
An exciting challenge, the one between Red Bull and Mercedes, partly predictable but not in the roles: no one could imagine that the World champion team after seven years would find itself in the unprecedented role of pursuer.