Rivals reveal Max Verstappen surprise at Belgian Grand Prix

Michelle Foster
Sergio Perez in conversation with Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen after Belgian Grand Prix qualifying. Spa, July 2023.

Sergio Perez in conversation with Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen after Belgian Grand Prix qualifying. Spa, July 2023.

Alpine data engineer Ramon Drost thought Max Verstappen would be leading the Belgian Grand Prix by lap five or six, but acknowledges it was still a “gigantic achievement” to be P1 by lap 17.

The championship leader started the Spa race from sixth on the grid as, although he was eight-tenths up in qualifying, he was hit with a five-place grid penalty for exceeding his season’s allocation of gearboxes.

While his team-mate Sergio Perez took the early lead, overtaking the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, Verstappen took nine laps to run P2 and another eight to pass his Red Bull team-mate for the lead.

Joked Max Verstappen would have the lead by lap 5

But such has been Verstappen’s advantage over the rest of the field this season, rivals joked he’d need all of five, maybe six, laps to put his RB19 P1.

“We actually made a joke of which lap he would be in first place,” Drost told Motorsport.com. “I myself said the fifth or sixth. It took a little longer.

“It is still a gigantic achievement that you are in the lead from P6 on the 17th lap. If you manage that, you can look at it with pride as a driver.”

With clear track ahead of him, Verstappen built up a lead over Perez and went on to win the race by 22 seconds ahead of the Mexican driver.

But it wasn’t without a bit of drama with Verstappen engaging in a few biting exchanges with his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase with GP telling the driver to “use your head a bit more” in tyre management.

Verstappen replied that he “could also push on and we do another stop”, but GP shut that down.

Drost said of GP’s communication with the driver: “It’s not always rose scent and moonshine. You can also be hard and clear. You have to because you want to perform. You can’t always be kind to each other, but if you’re performing, winning the race, then you can look back on it with a good feeling.”

He reckons the comment about another pit stop, “a little bit of pit stop training”, from Verstappen was said in jest. “If you feel so good and you have the guts to make such a joke, why not? It does credit him in the performance he delivers. It was more of a sarcastic joke.”

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‘Max Verstappen is on a different level to Sergio Perez’

With 10 wins on the board to Perez’s two and 125 points separating the two, Drost believes that difference can be attributed solely to Verstappen with the Frenchman adamant the cars are “almost the same”.

“I think the driver is the big difference,” Drost said. “The cars are almost the same.

“Perhaps a number of things have been adjusted differently, but that is specific to each driver and the preference of what they like to drive. But the car is the same.

“You can clearly see the differences between them, with Max on a different level. That’s where the difference lies, although it cannot be explained completely. I think it is cool to see.”

Fighting words for Sergio Perez

Although Perez lost the Belgian GP, he still finished second to record his first back-to-back podium celebrations since Baku and Miami.

Speaking after the race, he made it clear that he wants to finish this season with podium results in every one of the remaining 10 races.

“If I were a driver, I would say the same thing,” Drost said. “You don’t want to look weak. If you show your weakness, it’s the end of the story. I understand why he says it. Every driver who is on the podium does not want to be more off.”

Asked whether Perez had turned the tide, he replied: “I think the statement is more to show that he can do it and is podium-worthy. Whether he is on the podium in every race? We have to see.

“He still makes crazy mistakes now and then, so he is not always on the podium. It should be possible in terms of driver and car. He is not one of the worse, but one of the better. It won’t be the problem, but if he makes mistakes, he won’t get on the podium.”

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