Mercedes took pole position for the 11th time in as many races this weekend – but Red Bull are closer than ever.

In fact, had Max Verstappen replicated his Q2 lap time in Q3, he would be starting from the front row of the grid alongside pole winner Valtteri Bottas. That lap of 1’25.467 is Red Bull’s best of the weekend so far, and was less than two tenths of a second off Mercedes’ best.

This is another encouraging sign of progress for Red Bull. Two races ago in Mugello we were talking about them getting closer to Mercedes than at any point so far this season, having cut the gap to 0.327s. Today the deficit was 0.198s.

Max Verstappen credited the gains to Red Bull’s latest upgrade package and his team mate offered the same view. “I think it’s a whole part, really, it’s all bits and pieces, front to back,” said Alexander Albon.

The team ran the package despite not being able to thoroughly evaluate it as planned yesterday due to the disruption the weather caused to the practice sessions.

“To be honest we can’t compare it to the previous package just because without the Friday running, normally the plan was to run the old package versus new package,” said Albon. “So with limited running, we’ve kind of just started on it.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Nurburgring, 2020
Mercedes swept the front row again but they’re not quite as quick as usual

“But it feels good. It feels quick, obviously, straightaway in FP1 – or FP3 – it was feeling pretty strong straightaway. I was happy with it and I think it’s a good step forward. It’s put us a lot closer obviously to the Mercs.”

However Red Bull’s upgrade doesn’t appear to be the whole story. Several other teams have narrowed the gap to Mercedes by a similar amount in the four weeks since the Tuscan Grand Prix, notably Renault, McLaren and Ferrari.

Albon conceded Mercedes appear to be slightly weaker at this track, and in these unusually cold temperatures, than at other venues. “I don’t want to say Mercedes struggled but they don’t seem as quick,” he said. “When you look at the other teams as well it’s not like we’re miles ahead of everyone else. I would put it in that sense.”

Mercedes could become the first team ever to take pole position at every race in a season. But Red Bull’s progress indicates it’s only going to get harder for them to keep up that streak.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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