Verstappen had outpaced his nearest rival, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, by three tenths on Friday, and looked able to match the Ferraris and Mercedes cars over a long run.
However, he ended up seven tenths off Leclerc’s pole time in qualifying, and while he swiftly worked his way back towards the front in the race after serving a five-place grid penalty, he wound up posing no threat to the podium finishers, despite a late safety car bunching up the field.
“It was pretty boring,” Verstappen summarised after bringing the car home in fourth place, 14 seconds off the winner. “That was definitely the best we could’ve [achieved].”
Verstappen said his RB15 was “just not quick enough” to challenge those ahead, and felt the team was right to forgo a late pitstop to go for the fastest lap point – as it didn’t have the requisite tyres, nor the underlying pace.
Asked why he ended up less competitive than he’d looked on Friday, Verstappen said: “Well, they [Ferrari and Mercedes] turned their engines up more than us. And, I think maybe they were not happy with their car balances – I mean I was straight away quite happy with mine.
“Anyway this track is not suitable for us, so I guess it was just a really good Friday, where we nailed straight away the set-up, and for them it took a while to settle in.”
Teammate Alex Albon enjoyed a contrasting weekend, having looked well off the pace in practice and crashing in qualifying before recovering to fifth place from a pitlane start.
While the final result was aided by fortuitous virtual safety car timing, Albon was able to make steady progress through the pack, and sealed his second top-five finish in F1 with a late pass on McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.
“Happy after obviously a tough Saturday. I think that was really the best we could’ve done,” Albon said.
“A little bit fortunate with the safety car and everything like that, but still, pace was there.
“It feels like at the moment FP1 is always a struggle, and it kind of gets better through the weekend, and then by Sunday it’s normally more or less okay.
“Just need to kind of get into that rhythm and that speed earlier in the weekend. It will come. Just [need] more laps.
“But yeah, it was a tough weekend truthfully, but I’m happy with the progress.”