What made Max Verstappen stand out in the days before Red Bull debut

Sam Cooper
Max Verstappen in his first year racing for Red Bull.

Max Verstappen won the first of 54 grands prix in his very first race with Red Bull.

Before he was a Formula 1 superstar, Max Verstappen’s ability to quickly adapt to new surroundings was the trait that most turned heads in his younger days.

Verstappen’s ascension up the Formula 1 ranks has been rapid with the Dutchman not even on the grid this time 10 years ago. Now he stands as a three-time World Champion.

A member of the Red Bull junior programme, Verstappen was fast-tracked up the ladder and his current race engineer Gianpiero ‘GP’ Lambiase explained what most impressed him.

Speed of Max Verstappen learning crucial to early progression

Verstappen was dropped into the Red Bull seat in 2016 and shocked everyone when he went on to win his first race with the team but it was not the victory that most impressed Lambiase.

Quizzed on the younger Verstappen, the race engineer said it was his ability to learn that stood out.

“It was more in the lead up to Sunday that you really started to build a picture of what his capabilities were,” Lambiase recalled alongside Vertsappen on Red Bull’s in-house ‘Talking Bull’ podcast.

“So I think just going back a bit, the 10 days before, following the previous race, I remember I think I had a phone call from Helmut [Marko] one evening saying: ‘You’ve got a new driver, it’s Max Verstappen and he’ll be in this week because he’s on the simulator.’

“We organised three days on the simulator, really just to get him acquainted with the team, familiar with the crew procedures, the car. Try to run through as much about usual setup stuff that we would normally do and then give him a few challenges like blind test, qualifying fuel, whatever.

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“And you can just see already the immediacy of how he was picking all this stuff up. There was no repetition involved. You think, ‘OK, he’s an 18-year-old kid, he’s used to playing PlayStation [or] whatever, this is going really well,’ then we get to the race event and I remember we hit the ground running, competitive immediately.”

Verstappen then chimed in with his version of events: “For me, everything was just insane. The car was so much better.”

But Lambiase did suggest that Verstappen’s confidence may have also been his undoing.

“I think ultimately that was then [his] downfall in qualifying because I think he was just almost so happy to be there,” he added.

“Everything was going well, he felt he could just keep relying on his talent and keep chipping away at it and you’ll keep finding time,” he said before addressing Verstappen directly.

“But eventually, I think it was the last run of Q3 that Daniel [Ricciardo] ended up pipping you.”

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