Max Verstappen grilled as more Red Bull sandbagging questions posed

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen in qualifying. Belgian Grand Prix July 2023.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen in a wet qualifying session at Spa-Francorchamps. July 2023.

Max Verstappen has rejected suspicions that Red Bull are sandbagging in F1 2023 after his short-lived pace increase during the recent Hungarian Grand Prix came under the microscope. 

Red Bull enter the summer break having won all 12 races in 2023 so far, with Verstappen securing his eighth successive victory at last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

His triumph at Spa came just seven days after his previous win in Budapest, where his pace increased dramatically on his first full lap following his second pit stop.

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher

Max Verstappen explains temporary pace increase

The time Verstappen recorded on Lap 53 at the Hungaroring – a 1:20.504 – stood as the fastest lap of the race as the reigning World Champion lapped as much as two seconds slower over the remainder of the race.

Asked why his Lap 53 pace was not sustained, Verstappen explained that the limitations of Pirelli’s tyres prevent drivers from pushing so hard for long.

He told media including PlanetF1.com at Spa: “It’s the peak of the tyres, it’s draining the battery to really do the best lap you can, and if you keep that pace up you just degrade your tyres.

“The whole race, you are always pace managing – you can ask any driver, they all drive like that – because if you keep doing what you try to achieve on a lap like that, you [will have to] pit within five laps again for new tyres.

“I could have won by more, I could have won by less. It’s strategy-related, tyre-related, but I think how we did it worked really well.”

Suspicions of sandbagging continued at the Belgian GP, where Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez secured a fifth one-two finish of the season, with former Red Bull performance engineer Blake Hinsey drawing attention to both drivers lifting off through Eau Rouge during the race.

Speaking via his BrrrakeF1 YouTube channel, Hinsey argued that a corner Eau Rouge’s nature is not a conventional place to protect the tyres – despite the tyres being subjected to both lateral and vertical forces through that particular section of track.

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“[Tyre management] is something that the race engineers and drivers were talking about a lot throughout the race, they did spent a lot of the time on the soft tyres trying to managing this to get a longer stint out of it.

“But if you look at an entire lap around Spa, if you wanted to save tyre energy, yes, you could save tyre energy through Eau Rouge – but saving tyres through a high-speed corner that’s almost easy flat, in order to bleed lap time down the long straight after that, makes absolutely no sense.

“If you really wanted to save tyre energy, I would do it somewhere like Turn 10: it’s a high-speed corner, it’s a relatively long-duration corner and there’s a very short straight after it.”

Hinsey went on to add propose a theory that concerns over ride height, with teams having just one hour of practice to find a workable setup on a sprint weekend, may have encouraged Red Bull to keep a close eye on excessive plank wear given the compression at Eau Rouge.

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