LE CASTELLET, France — Daniel Ricciardo says his high-downforce setup in French Grand Prix qualifying contributed to the 0.190s gap he had to teammate Max Verstappen, who opted for a low-downforce setup.
The two Red Bull drivers qualified fourth and fifth in France, with Verstappen 0.483s off Hamilton’s pole position lap.
With the Circuit Paul Ricard’s long straights requiring good straight-line speed but its mix of high and medium-speed corners rewarding a high level of downforce, all teams faced a balancing act to find the perfect setup in qualifying. After Verstappen wasn’t happy with his initial high-downforce setup in Friday practice, he opted to switch to a skinnier rear wing in second practice while Ricciardo stuck with the high-downforce.
Ricciardo had planned to test the low-downforce settings in final practice on Saturday morning, but rain prevented any meaningful running.
“We split the cars yesterday with downforce levels,” he said. “Max went low, I was higher. We were pretty evenly matched yesterday but it looked like the low was worth trying for sure. We put that on to try it out in FP3 but didn’t get to try it because of the weather so then we were like — do we jump into qualifying with something we haven’t run yet? We decided to go with what we ran yesterday with and we know.
“We still had a lot of front wing in hand. More downforce, you’re going to understeer and you’ll need more front wing but at the end of Q1, we had already used every bit of front wing we had and still had understeer. We were a bit slow on the straights but we couldn’t balance it. It’s a frustrating session but yeah. If you have understeer, you know you can do other things with the car but in qualifying, your hands are tied. It was more than we hoped and expected. Not much more to do in qualifying.”
Ricciardo explained why Verstappen had switched but he had not.
“They tried it. I kept the same all weekend. His FP1 wasn’t that good. They had a few issues. He actually had more downforce in FP1 so they said alright, let’s take it all off and see. I think after yesterday afternoon, they were great, this is the only good session we had so let’s keep it. It was the same for us. We didn’t get the running with FP3, let’s go with what we know. I decided that with my engineer and I guess he decided with his. If we did FP3, we probably would have gone for the lower but it was unknown.”
Ricciardo is hoping for either full-wet conditions or intensely hot conditions and is worried something in between would continue to favour Verstappen’s car.
“I think one or the other. It needs to be wet or if it’s cold like this, it’s probably the worst for me. It makes the rear tyres last and it’s just going to give us more understeer and it will make the one stop easier with the ultrasoft. If it’s dry, it needs to be really hot so there is tyrewear, so maybe me with a bit more downforce it’ll be OK. Either yesterday or raining. Not this afternoon. That can go away!”