Max Verstappen was not expecting Ferrari to have the pace advantage over Red Bull that it had during the Austrian Grand Prix.

The championship leader took pole position on Friday and won the sprint race the following day, ensuring he retained his P1 starting spot for the grand prix itself. The first stint, though, saw Charles Leclerc close in and pass Verstappen as Red Bull struggled with tire degradation, whereas Ferrari could run longer and quicker in each stint as Leclerc took victory.

“It was a bit more difficult than I expected it to be,” Verstappen said. “Basically, on any tire, I was just struggling a lot for pace after a few laps; just a lot of deg. It’s something I cannot really explain right now — why it w as so high — because I think normally we are quite okay on the tires. I expected it to be tough today, but I didn’t expect it to be like this.

“So it’s just something we need to analyze and understand why this happened today, but even on a bad day…to only lose five points over the whole weekend…is still good.

“I expected to be strong. I just didn’t expect them to be this good. I think we were just a bit down on what we expected today.”

Verstappen was overtaken three times by Leclerc during the race and the latter two occasions saw limited defense put up compared to the Dutchman’s usual approach, but he says it’s all about reading the situation.

“No, I think it was just good racing. You try to defend, you try to attack the other person — it depends where you are. I think it was just very good racing from all of us. Of course, sometimes you’re on different kinds of tires or age of tires, but I think everything was good.

“This year …the moving and stuff…breaking the tow has been a bit updated, but overall I think it was good, good fighting.”