Max Verstappen believes that the new Red Bull will prove to be faster than Ferrari – despite finishing behind both Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix.

“I really enjoyed qualifying today,” said Verstappen, whose Q3 time of 1:21.879s puts him fourth place on Sunday’s starting grid.

Although his time was 0.715s off polesitter Lewis Hamilton’s new track record, the Dutch driver was within half a tenth of both Raikkonen and Vettel.

“It’s difficult to say what I expected heading into the session,” he admitted. “But it should have been a little bit better.

“I made a mistake on my last fast lap and went wide at turn 13 which lost me a few tenths compared to my previous run.

“We were still very close to Ferrari, which is positive,” he added. “But maybe we could have been second.”

However, Verstappen conceded that Mercedes was still firmly out of reach of the rest of the field.

“Mercedes were quite far ahead as expected,” he said. “Had I not made my mistake I think I would have only been about half a second off Lewis, which is closer than in the past.”

In the past, Red Bull has made up for any shortfall in qualifying by managing to be closer to its rivals in race trim.

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This time around, the team is also looking to gain a strategic advantage in Sunday’s race. Both Verstappen and his team mate Daniel Ricciardo completed their Q2 laps on supersoft tyres, while everyone else was on ultras.

Those are the tyres each driver in the top ten will now begin the Grand Prix with.

Starting on supersofts means that Red Bull can probably get through with just one pit stop and a change to soft tyres. Meanwhile everyone else will have the faster but shorter-lived ultras to deal with.

“All things considered and with the right strategy I think we can be competitive during the race tomorrow,” stated Verstappen.

“With Mercedes I’m not sure,” he admitted. “But I think we can have a good fight with Ferrari.

“We are hoping to go a bit longer with our tyre selection so if we stay out of trouble at the start we can settle in and have a strong race.

“I am happy with the pace and feel for the first race weekend. I’m hopeful we can improve and move forward from here

“Not just tomorrow,” he added. “But for the rest of the season.”

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