The Dutchman was just a tenth adrift of Vettel’s headline time, but the Scuderia will be expected to turn their mighty engines all the way up for qualifying, having taken pole position in each of the five races since racing resumed after the summer break.
Verstappen and then-Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo locked out the front row in Mexico a year ago, but the Dutchman expects it to be filled with red this time.
“I don’t think in qualifying we can fight with them – they’re just too quick,” Verstappen said of the Ferrari pair.
“The rest are pretty much in the same speed range, but [Ferrari are] just miles ahead. But that’s how it is at the moment, we just can’t gain the time back in the corners, unfortunately.
“But I guess for us we just have to focus a bit more on the race, see that we can keep the tyres under control and then I think it will still be a good race.”
Tyre life seemed precious on the soft tyres, and Verstappen confirmed they were not easy to handle, adding: “Initially it felt good, but you can see everyone is having trouble with them.”