Max Verstappen took a surprise pole position at Paul Ricard on a track where Mercedes has dominated in the past.
The Dutchman’s form was aided by Red Bull who opted to use their low downforce rear wing setup which helped boost his speed on the straights.
But while Mercedes has acknowledged that Verstappen is gaining an advantage with his extra top speed, he doesn’t think he would have been faster even with less downforce and drag.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Sky Sports F1 of Red Bull’s low-support choice: “We think as far as the simulation is concerned [tells us], it was the slowest version.
“You can see they were fast in a straight line. If we tackle the wing with low downforce, we will lose a lot more in the turns.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said the rear wing disparity between his team and Mercedes was the reason for the differences in pace during the lap.
“We took a bit of downforce from the car, you can probably see it from the size of the rear wing between us and the Mercedes,” he told Sky Sports F1.
“We use less energy in sector 2, so we go faster in the straight line because we have less resistance there.
“We still manage to have a very good time in Sector 3 which helps us generate a competitive lap time here. I hope we will be good for the race tomorrow.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB16B
Photo By: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Wolff said the ultimate problem for Mercedes was that it lacked pace compared to Red Bull regardless of downforce levels.
“[It’s a] tough weekend because we just lack the pace, ”he said. “It’s the truth. It looked a lot worse than at the end [where] we’re done, but we just need to win everywhere. There isn’t a part that we don’t watch, in order to improve our game.
Along with a smaller rear wing helping Red Bull down the straights, the team is also using new Honda engines for this weekend’s French GP.