Helmut Marko explains why Max Verstappen was allowed to defy team orders again

Thomas Maher
Red Bull's Max Verstappen in action at the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2023.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen in action at the Austrian Grand Prix. Spielberg, July 2023.

Max Verstappen wasn’t to be put off his preference of pitting for the fastest lap point right at the end of the Austrian Grand Prix.

Red Bull weren’t in favour of the tactic, with race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase telling his driver that they didn’t feel the risk was worth the extra point, as Verstappen would come out only a few seconds in front of second-placed Charles Leclerc.

The opportunity for something to go wrong, such as a sticky wheel nut or a mechanic mistake or even something more dramatic like an engine issue, meant Red Bull weren’t keen on bringing Verstappen in for such a small reward, but the reigning World Champion wasn’t to be deterred.

Max Verstappen pits for the fastest lap point

At the end of Lap 69, Verstappen dived into the pits and came back out on a set of softs to begin his attack on the final lap. Coming out just three seconds clear of Leclerc, he warmed up his tyres on Lap 70 before popping in a 1:07.012 on the final tour to set the fastest lap and take an additional point – extending his advantage up to 5.1 seconds in the process.

Verstappen’s win was never in question despite the extensive investigations into track limits that took place hours after the race, but the willingness to take such a risk for a solitary point did raise eyebrows – just why was Verstappen so eager to risk a win for the sake of a single point, when Red Bull wanted to err on the side of safety?

“There were discussions on the radio,” Marko told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport.

“Before Max got too restless, we wanted to do what he wanted and make him happy.

“Otherwise, he would have set the fastest lap on old tyres. That would have been even more risky.

“He drives with unbelievable ease, as we have come to expect from him.”

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Speaking to Sky F1 after the race, team boss Christian Horner explained that Verstappen’s eagerness was similar to what late team owner Dietrich Mateschitz would have wanted to see – last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix being the first held since the Austrian’s passing.

“He was pushing us about our pitstop,” he said.

“You could tell he wanted that soft set of tyres and it was like, ‘OK, look, no risk, no foul’, and that was what Dietrich always said. The mechanics have been in such great form in the pits today, it was a very low-risk thing to do.”

Verstappen himself was nonplussed about the situation, saying that it hadn’t been planned in advance, and he didn’t feel it had been much of a risk.

To me not, but to the team, I think they were a little bit more nervous,” he said.

“But I mean, I saw the gap and I was like ‘we have to pit, I want to go for the fastest lap’. When you have the opportunity, you know… And that’s what we did at the end.

“From the outside maybe it looks like a big risk. But when you’re in the car… For me, it didn’t feel like a risk at all.”

Why didn’t Max Verstappen pit during Virtual Safety Car intervention?

Verstappen had to do some overtaking on track to win the Austrian Grand Prix, with Red Bull having gone the opposite direction to Ferrari by not choosing to pit under the Virtual Safety Car on Laps 14 and 15. Once Verstappen did pit, he came out behind Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz and had to pick his way through them – something he managed with ease.

Asked why he had opted to stay out rather than take the time saving stopping under the VSC would have allowed, Verstappen said: “The tyres were still in good condition.

“We just stick to our plan. I mean, you have these calculations before, if there’s a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car. And for us, it made sense to just go, because I think we had good tyre life.

“Already, the few laps before the VSC came out, I was definitely pulling even more of a gap over as every single lap. That’s why I wasn’t really worried about it. I just completed my stint that I had to do on the Medium.

“And then, when I came out on the Hard tyre, I immediately felt that tyre was not the better tyre, but you have to complete a stint on it. I mean the Soft, was not going to last, so once I got past Carlos, I just… yeah. The way you manage your stint I was just naturally closing in on Charles because of my tyre life advantage and probably also just a general pace advantage. So yeah, just step by step, catching up.”

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