Max Verstappen issued Mercedes challenge by Christian Horner – ‘If we beat them here’

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Red Bull boss Christian Horner has declared that if they can beat Mercedes at Paul Ricard, then they can “beat them anywhere” after Max Verstappen secured pole position ahead of the French Grand Prix.

Verstappen sent Lewis Hamilton a clear warning sign ahead of the race after taking his second pole position of the season around Paul Ricard, a first ever in France for Red Bull.

The Dutchman secured his fifth career pole position after a 1:29.990s lap which was 0.258s faster than Hamilton in second place with Valtteri Bottas starting third.

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On a track that on paper should suit Mercedes, whose strength seems to be their aerodynamics, with their straight-line speed proving a massive asset.

Yet, with Verstappen over two tenths faster than the Mercedes in his Red Bull, his boss reckoned they could be in with a good chance on Sunday.

“It certainly gives us more confidence, but let’s see how tomorrow goes,” Horner told Sky Sports F1.

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“But this circuit has been such a stronghold for Mercedes over the recent years, so if we can beat them here then really we can beat them anywhere.

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“So, there’s a lot at stake obviously, but the whole team is just working incredibly well, working long hours.

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“It’s difficult this year because we’ve got the current car, next year’s car and the cost cap and everything else going on.

“But as a unit to see the whole team coming together as it is, putting this pressure on Mercedes is phenomenal.”

Sergio Perez, Verstappen’s team-mate, will start fourth on the grid, just behind the two Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in third.

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But Verstappen’s fastest lap lit up the timing screens, setting purple sector times, meaning the fastest lap time in that sector of the session, AND Horner explained why.

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“We’ve taken a bit of downforce out of the car, you can probably see by the size of the rear wing between us and Mercedes,” continued Horner.

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“We’re using less energy in sector two so we’re going faster down the straight as we’ve got less resistance, but we’re still managing to do a pretty good time in sector three so that’s helping us generate a competitive lap time round here.

“Hopefully, it’ll be good for the race tomorrow.”

Verstappen, who leads the championship by four points over Hamilton, took the lead of the standings with victory in Monte Carlo earlier in the month.

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And the Dutchman said he was keen to show what he can do around a ‘normal’ circuit, rather than a street circuit.

He added: “I am actually [confident]. The car felt good yesterday in FP2 so I’m looking forward to it.

“I mean so far it’s been a really positive weekend on a track where normally it’s been a bit difficult for us.

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“Yesterday FP2 was a bit of a turnaround and we just made it even better today.

“Of course, to get pole position was really nice, but no points are scored today [in qualifying] but for us it’s a great day.

“We have to finish it off tomorrow and try and get the 25 points that we lost in Baku. It’s a great performance from our side and I hope that we can keep it up.”

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