Max Verstappen delivers Oscar Piastri verdict as ‘young guy’ bursts onto F1 scene

Thomas Maher
Red Bull's Max Verstappen races McLaren's Oscar Piastri at the 2023 Belgian Grand Prix.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen races McLaren's Oscar Piastri.

Max Verstappen had a new racing scenario to deal with as he went up against rookie driver Oscar Piastri in the Belgian GP Sprint…

Verstappen started the Sprint race from the lead position but, having decided against pitting at the end of the formation laps to change from full wets to intermediates in the rapidly improving conditions, was jumped by McLaren’s Oscar Piastri when he pitted at the end of the first racing lap.

Verstappen was almost two seconds down, but latched on to close the gap on the rookie driver – his attack briefly halted by a short Safety Car intervention as Fernando Alonso spun off. Upon resuming, Verstappen overtook Piastri along the Kemmel Straight, and went unchallenged to the chequered flag.

Max Verstappen: I’ve been in the position of being the young guy

While now a seasoned pro at the ripe old age of 25, Verstappen’s duel with Piastri was the first time in which he’s been fighting for a race win with a driver younger than himself – and a rising star, at that as the Australian had vied for podium finishes in recent races.

It’s a position Verstappen could easily identify with, having had to come into the sport as a young, unproven driver and go up against the dominant veteran Lewis Hamilton for race wins.

“Yes, it’s always good,” he told media, including, when asked about whether he enjoyed racing some “fresh blood”.

“I mean, I’ve been in that position as well, where the younger guy comes in. It’s nice and it’s great and Oscar’s having a very strong season in general.

“But I think also this weekend, he has been really on it. So it’s always nice to, for the first time, basically race him.”

What were the biggest challenges Max Verstappen faced?

Having overcome Piastri in the fight for the Sprint victory, the Dutch driver outlined that pitting at the same time as the 10 drivers who did at the beginning of the race could have jeopardised his race far more than staying out for the single lap on full wets.

Despite losing time to the cars who had pitted, Verstappen said more could have been lost.

“I think just to make the call of when to pit,” he said, when asked about the possible pitfalls of his race.

“But I said already to the team, I know we can pit straight away but it’s very risky because of all the cars behind me coming in as well, and then having to hold your car.

“Or a Safety Car on Lap 1, which can happen quite often in these conditions. So I think we just took the safer option of doing a single lap.

“I had a little wait for the Ferrari (sic – Verstappen was held due to the passing of Lando Norris in the pits).

“I came out behind Oscar and then I knew that I had to get by him at some point.

“I could see that within two laps he was really struggling a lot more with the tyres like they were just overheating more. With our top speed as well, that’s why I had a good run after the Safety Car.”

Max Verstappen faces bigger task on Sunday

With a grid penalty for Sunday’s Grand Prix, Verstappen will start the race from sixth place as he took top spot in Friday qualifying.

But the Dutch driver is full of optimism for the Grand Prix given the performance he experienced during the Sprint.

“Yeah, the car was quick,” he said.

“I mean, we knew already, over one lap, we were not bad but it also seemed like, in the race, we were quite good on keeping the tyres alive.

“So, hopefully, we can do the same tomorrow if it’s dry because I’m starting a bit further back to be careful to not have any damage on the car.

“As soon as I just have a clean Lap 1, from there onwards, we can move forward.”

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