By JEROME PUGMIRE
The Associated Press
BAKU, Azerbaijan — Red Bull’s high hopes for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix came crashing down in qualifying on Saturday.
Max Verstappen qualified in fifth and teammate Daniel Ricciardo only 10th after clipping a barrier near the end coming out of Turn 6 on a hazardous Baku street circuit that has been causing problems all week.
“I’m not blaming the car. The rear went away a bit,” Ricciardo said. “Just the consequence of trying to get a bit more out of the car. I guess I was just chasing that little bit too much.”
It was disappointing for the team, considering that Red Bull had been showing promising speed, with Verstappen fastest in both practice sessions on Friday.
“The 10th [place] today doesn’t reflect it, but it’s definitely been a positive weekend in terms of the car feel and the progress we’re making,” Ricciardo said. “Relative to Ferrari it looks like we’ve closed the gap (in terms of speed).”
Red Bull was not the only team struggling on the sinewy, hard-braking track, which made its F1 debut last year.
“We’re all still experimenting,” Ricciardo said. “Still trying to find the sweet spot.”
Verstappen thought he found it on Friday, driving with his customary confidence to lead P1 and P2, then got a reality check on Saturday when his car packed up near the end of the third practice due to a hydraulics issue.
“We had to wind the engine down, which cost me quite a bit of lap time,” the Dutchman said. “It’s a bit unfortunate that we couldn’t extract more out of the car.”
Verstappen was second fastest behind Lewis Hamilton in the first part of qualifying, before fading in Q2 and Q3.
“We should be ahead [of Ferrari] without all those things that happened,” said Verstappen, who believes Red Bull can match Ferrari. “It’s looking a lot better. Mercedes is a bit too quick but with the Ferraris, for sure, we can fight.”
Verstappen could do with a good result in Baku today.
Last year, he became the youngest F1 driver to win a race and to qualify on the front row. But this season he has only one podium and failed to finish three races including the last, the Canadian GP two weeks ago.