In the crosshairs in the final laps at the Mexican Grand Prix and under the microscope really all season since his early season call-up to Red Bull from Toro Rosso, Max Verstappen could play a key role in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix from fourth place on the grid.
And Verstappen’s season-long sparring partner, Kimi Raikkonen, will look to prevent him from doing that as he excelled on his final lap on the grid – one he didn’t even think was that good – to edge ahead in third.
This marks the first time since Monza’s Italian Grand Prix in September that a Red Bull, whether Verstappen or teammate Daniel Ricciardo, has not made it into third on the grid. That also marks the last race a Red Bull did not make it on the podium, as Sebastian Vettel came third there.
Raikkonen has matched his season-best grid position of third (China, Russia, Belgium) and was surprised to end as high as he did after a lap he didn’t think was good enough for the position.
“I struggled the whole qualifying but to be honest the last lap, it was pretty average. I guess it was enough to be third place,” Raikkonen said in the post-qualifying press conference.
“The Mercedes are a bit too far. I struggled warming up the tires up. The middle I wasn’t happy. But I don’t mind. We’ll see what we can do.”
Ever the wordsmith…
Verstappen, meanwhile, will roll off fourth, in a weekend where his own pursuit of his best result could potentially interfere with the championship contenders.
“I wasn’t surprised. I struggled in my last run,” Verstappen told NBCSN’s Will Buxton afterwards. “In general from one to the other set, the balance changed a lot. Don’t know what’s going on there.
“We don’t need to change much. That’s what happened in the last run. First sector was all good but the rear was gone in the second. A bit difficult but we’re still fourth. It’s not too bad.”
How these two get on with their races on Sunday may play a role in the outcome, with the likelihood that barring any mechanical issues for Mercedes that only one of them at best can stand on the podium.