SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Max Verstappen missed out on becoming the youngest pole-sitter in Formula One history when Lewis Hamilton edged ahead of him in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, yet the Dutchman remained overjoyed to be on the front row.
The 20-year-old Red Bull driver encountered a plethora of issues through practice and into the early stages of qualification before putting together a lap of 1:36.334 to trail championship leader Hamilton by just 0.319 seconds.
“Honestly this feels like a victory,” Verstappen told reporters at the 23-turn Marina Bay Street Circuit.
“The amount of problems I’ve had today and even in qualifying with the engine, just not having a smooth run, cutting in torque, to be second is unbelievable and that just shows we have an amazing car.”
Verstappen matched his qualifying performance from a year ago but after his race then was ruined by a first-lap collision involving the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, the Dutchman is hoping for better luck on Sunday.
“We just need to make sure that we have a clean start and from there everything is possible. We do have to sort out the engine for tomorrow but at least I’m very happy with the car,” he added.
The engine problems he alluded to appeared to compromise the Red Bull’s performance for much of Friday and Saturday after Verstappen and team mate Daniel Ricciardo had started the weekend with a one-two finish in the first practice session.
“From the third practice onwards, I was shaking with anger but now I’m just shaking with happiness,” Verstappen said.
“So many problems in the final practice. I mean I was going into false neutral, car was stopping on the track, while driving in my fast laps just bogging down, and qualifying was exactly the same story.
“So we had to detune the engine — lost a bit of time there — to try and make the drive-ability better but it still didn’t work like it should do.
“But suddenly, going into the last phase of qualifying, I felt the car was working really well. I didn’t really have anything to complain (about). So, when I saw second on the board I was actually quite surprised.
“With the problems I had, and then on my final run I tried to push a bit more, and I was another two-tenths up and then I arrived to Turns 16-17 and when I had to short-shift again, the engine just cut out, so I had to abort.
“If it was going to be enough for pole, I’m not so sure — but at least it would have been closer than three-tenths. I’m already surprised to be second with all the issues I’m having.
“The only thing I can say is that it was a great qualifying. I think the best I’ve ever done and the car was also working really well. That definitely put us second today.”
Reporting by John O'Brien; editing by Clare Fallon