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Formula 1 United States GP

Why we haven’t seen Verstappen’s real advantage at the F1 US GP yet

Max Verstappen’s true pace advantage at Formula 1’s United States Grand Prix has not yet been seen, after it emerged engine driveability issues disguised his ultimate pace in sprint qualifying.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

The world champion made amends for losing pole position for the main race on Sunday, thanks to a track limits offence in Friday qualifying, to secure sprint pole in Saturday's shootout session.

The margins over the opposition appeared to be much closer than recent races though. He ended up 0.055 seconds ahead of Charles Leclerc and there was only a little over one-tenth separating the top four cars - lifting hopes that things were closing up at the front.

But an intriguing message from Verstappen on the team radio as he returned to the pits following sprint pole hinted that his pace had not been an optimum as hoped.

“Not bad considering the issues,” he told the team.

He later explained to the TV cameras that his final lap had not been an especially good one.

“I think the last lap wasn't particularly great, but we are still on pole,” he said. “So that means that the car was working quite well.”

It has subsequently emerged that Verstappen appears to be in a better place against his rivals than the lap times suggest, as he was left battling driveability issues throughout the shootout. These were triggered by him not quite getting his engine mapping settings spot on.

Mario Isola, Racing Manager, Pirelli Motorsport presents Sprint Poleman Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing with the Sprint Shootout Award in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Mario Isola, Racing Manager, Pirelli Motorsport presents Sprint Poleman Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing with the Sprint Shootout Award in Parc Ferme

There was also a little bit of extra pace left due to the car having slightly more fuel than was necessary for just a single qualifying lap.

It is understood that the data points to Verstappen having had the potential to be two tenths clear of the chasing pack if things had been optimum - which paints a different picture of how things are shaping up in the fight for the win.

Speaking to Sky Sports after the sprint shootout, Red Bull team boss Horner confirmed that some settings had not been ideal – but should be sorted for the race.

“There's obviously always things electrically that you can tidy up,” he said. “There’s some driveability stuff that Max wants to tune for the race this afternoon.”

Verstappen’s missing potential from his pole lap for the sprint follows not seeing exactly what he was capable of in Friday qualifying either.

While his final Q3 lap was ruled out for track limits after being good enough for pole, that did not take into account the fact that he had also had to battle back from losing so much time with a lock-up at Turn 1.

Data analysis of his final lap compared to eventual polesitter Leclerc pointed to Verstappen being as much as 0.291 seconds down at the start of the Esses for the final run – a gap that he had overcome by the end.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

As Horner added: “What you have to look at about that lap yesterday is Max dropped two tenths at the first turn, with a bit of a lock-up.

“It was mighty. And if you look at the speed that he took in [Turn] 19, it was 5-6km/h quicker than anything that we've seen.

“The margins are so fine, but he was chasing that pole. He had it momentarily and, had it not been for that white line or a wider stripe, he'd have kept it.”

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