Verstappen says Red Bull not on same level as rivals

Formula One - F1 - Australian Grand Prix - Melbourne, Australia - 25/03/2017 Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands stands in pit lane before the start of the qualifying session. REUTERS/Brandon Malone

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian Grand Prix qualifying showed Red Bull are not yet on the same level as Formula One rivals Mercedes and Ferrari but Max Verstappen said he was not surprised.

"Basically I saw it coming after winter testing, this is the best we could do," the 19-year-old Dutch driver told Sky Sports television on Saturday after he qualified fifth behind the two Mercedes and Ferraris for the season-opening race.

Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo was 10th after spinning into the tire wall in the final phase of the session without setting a time.

Verstappen said the car had a tricky balance and lacked pace.

"We are still down on power but also, in terms of grip level and things, we are not on the same level compared to Ferrari and Mercedes yet," he said.

"Our best hope tomorrow is a clean start because we don't have the pace to challenge the Ferraris and Mercedes. I'm realistic."

He said Sunday's race, with Lewis Hamilton on pole for Mercedes and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel also on the front row, could be a lonely one for him with a likely gap to the cars behind and in front.

Verstappen's best lap of one minute 23.485 seconds was 1.3 seconds slower than Hamilton's pole time.

The Dutchman was more than half a second quicker than sixth fastest qualifier Romain Grosjean in the Haas.

(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Sudipto Ganguly)