Max Verstappen admits Red Bull is struggling “a bit more than normal” after qualifying almost half a second behind Lewis Hamilton in Qatar.

Red Bull didn’t look as competitive as Mercedes through practice at the Losail International Circuit, but Verstappen was still hopeful he could challenge for pole position.

Verstappen has been hampered by constant rear wing issues throughout the weekend, but managed to get within a tenth of Hamilton’s first lap in Q1 on the soft tyres.

However, from then onwards, Hamilton was able to extract more performance from his Mercedes, ending 0.455s ahead of his championship rival to claim his first pole since Hungary.

Having watched team-mate Sergio Perez eliminated in Q2, Verstappen, who secured a place on the front row, made no secret of Red Bull’s pace deficit.

“I think we are just lacking a bit of pace,” Verstappen explained. “I think it’s been just a bit more tricky for us.

“In qualifying, you could already clearly see Checo is not even in Q3. So it just shows that we are definitely struggling a bit more than normal.

“But nevertheless, I mean, still second, so it’s all to play for of course. But I wish we could have fought for more.”

Verstappen holds a 14-point lead in the drivers’ standings over Hamilton heading into Sunday’s race, with Qatar’s high-speed nature expected to make for very few overtaking opportunities.

But Verstappen is remaining open-minded about his race chances, believing there is a “lot of unknowns” going into Formula 1’s first race in Qatar.

“It always difficult to say because we’ve never really done a race here, so there’s a lot of unknowns,” Verstappen said.

“But I don’t really think about these things too much. We just need to work on our start, and then see where we end up.”