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What Red Bull thought Verstappen was risking with late F1 Belgian GP tyre tactic

Max Verstappen earned another rebuke from Formula 1 engineer Gianpiero Lambiase late in his 2023 Spa domination, with Pirelli revealing why Red Bull was so concerned at his tyre tactics.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Michael Potts / Motorsport Images

The world champion had irrepressibly risen from the sixth place on the grid, having dropped five places due to a gearbox change penalty, and by lap 17 of 44 Verstappen had passed Sergio Perez to pull out an 8.9s lead by the time the two Red Bulls made their final pitstops.

PLUS: The surprise star of Verstappen's latest Spa masterclass

After this, Verstappen unleashed an out-lap one second quicker than Perez and then proceeded to set his personal best lap of the main Spa race, a 1m48.922s, beaten only by Lewis Hamilton’s last-gasp 1m47.305s effort.

Lambiase had already warned Verstappen to deliver an “easy out-lap”, as Red Bull felt “the most important thing is to look after this soft tyre – it's a reasonable stint, 14 laps” when his driver had demanded to know the fastest time at that stage.

As Verstappen started the tour that would go on to be his personal best, Lambiase chided him for his out-lap speed, saying: “You've used a lot of the tyre on an out-lap, Max, not sure that was sensible.”

Once Verstappen’s flying effort was in, Lambiase told him “this tyre had reasonable deg in the first stint” and asked him to “use your head a bit more”, echoing a request from earlier in the race when the Dutchman was homing in on Perez and asked, cryptically, to drive to a set pace ahead of the first stops.

After being told his pace had come down to what Red Bull wanted to get to the end, but that this was still quicker than Perez’s early final stint times, Verstappen later jokingly suggested he instead could push on and stop for a third time to give his mechanics “a bit of pitstop practice”, which Lambiase swiftly rebuffed.

F1’s Pirelli tyres require careful management across race stints, but particularly during the early phase Verstappen was on with his new softs heading to the chequered flag in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, in the pits

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, in the pits

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

When asked by Autosport what Verstappen had been risking that so concerned Red Bull at the stage in question, Pirelli motorsport boss Mario Isola replied: “If you push at the beginning of the stint on new tyres yes, there are two potential risks.

“One is to initiate the graining because when the tyre is still, let’s say cold, [the tyre] is not ready.”

The cold temperatures at Spa last Sunday, allied with the drivers backing off during the brief mid-race rain shower and holding back when running the softs in typical tyre management, combined to make the red-walled rubber the compound of choice for the main event.

But the graining risk remained if front-left tyre surfaces were opened up – especially during the early phases – which would have made the 60-mile run over those final 14 laps more challenging for Verstappen than Red Bull wanted.

It had already spotted that the tyres taken off the Dutchman’s car from the first two stints had already had this happen to a low extent.

“Then the risk is that because of the mechanical resistance of the compound at this temperature, it starts breaking it and generally it starts graining, which you then have to clean to recover performance,” Isola continued.

“Or you can increase the level of degradation because when the tyre is new and you have the thickness of the compound [that] is higher you generate more heat into the compound and then you have more thermal degradation.

“That is why in the first laps they tend to manage the tyre in order to bring the temperature in.”

Isola also said that when it comes to 2023 in-race tyre management driving, he believes “Red Bull at the moment has a good margin, so basically they are doing what they want and sometimes you can see Max is managing the pace and when he is pushing he is able to run one second or more faster than the others”.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Verstappen said that when following Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc early in the first stint Perez led, he “hurt my tyres a bit too much”.

“So basically, as soon as I had my stop onto the medium, I could feel that the car was in a much better window and I could go a lot faster,” he added of his GP rubber overall.

“From there onwards that was really where it started to come alive and really enjoyable to drive once I got into the lead.

“I could really look after the tyres as well. But then, of course, the rain started to come down [early in the leader’s second stint].

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“So, you had to slow down quite a bit in some places. And once that cleared, we went back to a soft tyre set and, again, the car was well balanced.

“It shows that once you're not in traffic, how much better you can be on tyres. It was, again, a great race.”

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