‘What just happened?’ – Verstappen and Lambiase recall their dramatic first F1 race win together
Max Verstappen and his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase reached new heights in 2023 as their formidable partnership yielded 19 victories out of 22 races and a third successive drivers’ championship – the Dutchman breaking a host of F1 records along the way.
It was the latest chapter in a story that began almost eight years ago when the then teenaged Verstappen secured a mid-season promotion from Toro Rosso to Red Bull and claimed a sensational victory on his debut for the senior team at the Spanish Grand Prix.
Taking the move in his stride, Verstappen qualified fourth, just behind experienced team mate Daniel Ricciardo, before capitalising on a clash between Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg and then fending off Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen for the breakthrough result.
Appearing together on an episode of the Talking Bull podcast, Verstappen and Lambiase were asked to go back to the start of their shared journey and talk through that whirlwind weekend at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
“I think overall we had quite a solid weekend up until the Sunday, it was all okay, I was quite happy with it,” said Verstappen, who spent the week before at Red Bull’s factory getting to grips with the RB12 in the simulator.
“I will never forget on the grid, I think Christian [Horner, Red Bull Team Principal] came to me and said, ‘Well, you know, just enjoy, no pressure, try to score a few points’. I said, ‘Yeah, okay’. It was my first race, I think they meant well, just no pressure and don’t do anything silly basically.
“I qualified fourth. Turn 4 was a beautiful corner that day on Lap 1 when two Mercedes cars just disappeared off the road! Then I knew, ‘Okay, we might be on the podium here today, if I’m holding on in the race’.
“Again, it was like my first proper race distance in the car, so it was definitely a bit different to what I was used to; in terms of speed it was quite a bit faster. How the race panned, I could look after my tyres quite well, we did a two-stop, I had to keep Kimi behind for quite a few laps.
“I definitely felt like with 10 laps to go that I was getting quite nervous, but I couldn’t make a mistake, I kept telling myself that this is going to be my first win, I can’t lock-up or do anything wrong here. I kept telling myself that until the last lap and I crossed the line and won the race.”
Verstappen admitted that the “dream come true” moment was difficult for himself, Lambiase (also known as ‘GP’) and the rest of the Red Bull team to process as he made his way back to the pits for the post-race celebrations.
“I think also GP was completely shocked,” he continued. “I remember the radio messages like, ‘I can’t believe this’. I think everyone was a bit like, ‘What just happened?’, including myself. It’s a weekend you’ll never forget because you work to get into F1, you dream of being the podium one day, you dream of, of course, being on the top step.
“Once I stood there [on the podium], it was quite emotional, seeing also my dad there. I think he was even more nervous than me because apparently during the race he started bleeding out of his nose because he was that nervous!”
Giving his side of the story, Lambiase recalled being taken aback by Verstappen’s performance during his hurried simulator preparations before flying out to Barcelona.
“I think it was more in the lead up to Sunday that you really started to build a picture of what his capabilities were,” he said. “Following the previous race, I think I had a phone call from Helmut [Marko, Red Bull advisor] 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’. I had it confirmed the next morning from the factory.
“We organised three days on the simulator, really just to get him acquainted to the team, familiar with the crew, the procedures, the car. We tried to run through as much of our usual pre-event set-up stuff that we would normally do, then give him a few challenges in terms of blind tests, qualifying fuel or whatever.
“You could just see already the immediacy on how he was picking all this stuff up, there was no repetition involved. You kind of think, ‘Okay, he’s an 18-year-old kid, he’s used to playing PlayStation’, whatever – this is going really well.”
As for how that developed over the Grand Prix weekend, Lambiase added: “Then we got to the race event and I remember we hit the ground running, we were competitive immediately, we had no major dramas with the balance.
“It was really just incredible that he was able to manage – the rear-left tyre would have been the limitation that year – that rear-left tyre for as long as he did, keeping such an experienced driver like Kimi behind. It was my first race win as well, so it was a double whammy – a really good day!”