P3 on grid in Malaysia a ‘good birthday present’ for Max Verstappen

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Max Verstappen has called third place on the grid for the Malaysian Grand Prix a “pretty good birthday present” after turning 20 on Saturday in Sepang.

Verstappen made his F1 debut at the tender age of 17 and became the sport’s youngest ever winner at 18, but can no longer be called a “teen sensation”.

Nevertheless, Verstappen once again displayed his undeniable talent by taking third on the grid in Malaysia despite Red Bull’s fears it would lag behind both Mercedes and Ferrari in the dry.

Verstappen finished just half a second back from pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton, giving him encouragement for the race on Sunday.

“Third in qualifying is a pretty good birthday present today. The whole weekend I was not fully happy with the car and in the last practice session I didn’t have the perfect balance, but in qualifying we managed to pull it together and the car was pretty good,” Verstappen said.

“To be four or five tenths off pole position on this track and knowing they can turn up their engines in qualifying means we are doing a good job. I think on the long runs we are a bit more competitive so I’m definitely looking forward to tomorrow.”

Having retired from six races so far this season, Verstappen’s main aim is getting to the finish line in Singapore and picking up some much-needed points, given he currently sits level with Force India’s Sergio Perez in the constructors’ championship.

“So far on Saturdays I’ve been a happy guy and on Sundays that has changed. Let’s hope it is different tomorrow and I’m sure we can have a good race,” Verstappen said.

“I’m also hoping for no sandwiches!”

Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo will start fourth, having slipped half a tenth of a second back from Verstappen in Q3.

“I did all I could today and I think we both got the most out of the car,” Ricciardo said. “We’re half a second from Lewis around here so I think we can be pretty happy with that. It gives us a chance in the race tomorrow even if it’s dry.

“I would have loved to be on third today, but that half a tenth was actually Max’s birthday gift from me and I wanted to start on fourth really, because that’s where I started last year and I won.

“This is obviously all planned in my mind. I did a bit of a lift of the throttle just before the finish line, so yeah, it’s of course all calculated…”