Although the Dutchman led the way in both sessions around the Jeddah circuit, he said that the early long-run pace pointed to things being much closer this weekend.
In particular he reckoned the different nature of the track, and especially the fact that it was not so punishing on tyres, allowed Red Bull’s rivals to pose a much bigger threat.
Speaking at the end of the day, Verstappen said: “We had a positive day, but there’s still quite a few things that we can do better.
“We are closer to each other but it’s more because of just managing the tyres. They don’t really let you push here at the moment, so with a low-deg circuit then I think the lap times are all very close. So, it’s definitely not like Bahrain.”
Fernando Alonso had emerged as Verstappen’s closest challenger in both practices, as he ended up 0.2 seconds behind in the more representative evening session.
Alonso himself downplayed the significance of being so near to Verstappen on the timesheets though, with him having looked equally strong in Friday practice in Bahrain only to fall away in qualifying.
“I think Friday is always not very representative,» said the Aston Martin driver. «In Bahrain we were okay, like P1 on Friday, and then we were P5, nearly P6, in qualifying.
“So, you never know until we go to qualifying. But we tested what we wanted to test in the car.
“I think it is still not an ideal balance, so we still need to chase a little bit of grip tonight. But yeah, so far so good. It’s another good start.»
Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Third fastest Sergio Perez said his running for Red Bull had been compromised by an unspecified mechanical problem that held back his full potential.
“We had a bit of an issue with the car mechanically,” explained the Mexican. “Hopefully we are able to sort it out for tomorrow and it will bring us a bit more pace and at least we can have a better idea of where the car is.
“There was a bit of inconsistency, and it was difficult to get the proper read today, but overall, we seem to be strong. But the competition is there as expected.”
Although Red Bull appeared to be well clear of Ferrari and Mercedes, Perez anticipated that other teams would show more pace when qualifying began.
“I do expect a few of the rival teams to step up tomorrow,” he said.
Additional reporting by Adam Cooper