The champion of the world had impressively climbed up from sixth place on the starting grid. He had dropped five places after leading the Friday evening qualifying, but managed to regain his position thanks to a gearbox change following the practice session.
On lap 17 out of 44 on the previous Sunday, Verstappen successfully overtook his teammate Sergio Perez, who had been leading for a long time. He then managed to establish a lead of 8.9 seconds by the time both Red Bull cars made their last pit stops.
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Following this, Verstappen executed an outlap that was one second faster than Perez. He then went on to achieve his best lap time of the main Spa race, clocking in at 1m48.922s, which was only surpassed by Lewis Hamilton’s last-minute effort of 1m47.305s.
Lambiase had previously advised Verstappen to take it easy on his outlap, as Red Bull’s main priority was to take care of the soft tyre, which would last for a decent stint of 14 laps. Verstappen had asked for the fastest time at that point.
Verstappen embarked on the tour that would ultimately become his personal record, and Lambiase criticized him for his speed during the initial lap, remarking, “Max, you have worn out a significant portion of the tire during the out-lap, and I’m not certain that was a wise decision.”
After Verstappen completed his impressive performance, Lambiase informed him that the tire had a decent amount of wear during the initial stint. He then requested Verstappen to be more cautious and strategic in his driving, which echoed a previous request made during the race when Verstappen was closing in on Perez. At that time, he was cryptically asked to maintain a specific pace before the first pit stops.
After being told his pace had come down to more what Red Bull wanted to get to the end but that this was still a quicker than Perez’s early final stint times, Verstappen later jokingly suggested he instead could push on and stop for a third time to give his mechanics “a bit of pitstop practice”, as he did in Austria, which Lambiase swiftly rebuffed.
The Pirelli tires used in F1 races need to be managed carefully throughout the race, especially in the beginning stages. Verstappen had to be cautious with his new set of soft tires as he approached the finish line in the Belgian Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, in the pits
Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images
When asked by Motorsport.com what Verstappen had been risking that so concerned Red Bull at the stage in question, Pirelli motorsport boss Mario Isola replied: “If you push at the beginning of the stint on new tyres yes, there are two potential risks.
“One is to initiate the graining because when the tyre is still, let’s say cold – not cold because they are in blankets – but [the tyre] is not ready.”
Last Sunday at Spa, the low temperatures and cautious driving during the short rain shower in the middle of the race, as well as the drivers’ conservative approach when using the soft tires for tire management, all contributed to the red-walled rubber being the preferred choice for the main event.
However, there was still a risk of graining if the surfaces of the front-left tires were exposed, particularly in the early stages of the race. This could have made the final 14 laps more difficult for Verstappen than what Red Bull had hoped for, considering the 60-mile run.
It had already spotted the tyres taken off the Dutchman’s car from the first two stints had already had this happen to a low extent.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
Isola continued by stating that there is a risk of the compound breaking and graining due to its mechanical resistance at this temperature. In order to restore performance, it would then be necessary to clean it.
“Alternatively, you have the option to enhance the rate of deterioration. This occurs when the tire is in its initial state with a greater thickness of the compound, resulting in increased heat generation within the compound and subsequently leading to higher thermal degradation.”
In the initial stages of the race, drivers often take measures to carefully regulate the tire’s temperature for optimal performance.
Isola also mentioned that in terms of managing the tires during races in 2023, he thinks that Red Bull currently has a significant advantage. They are able to dictate their strategy and it’s evident that Max is able to control the pace. When he pushes, he can go a second or more quicker than his competitors.
Verstappen mentioned that while trailing behind Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc at the beginning of the race, Perez took the lead but unfortunately “caused excessive wear on my tires.”
“I immediately noticed a significant improvement in the car’s performance and felt more confident to push harder once I switched to the medium tires,” he explained, referring to his overall experience with the Grand Prix rubber.
“So, that’s when things really started to get exciting. It was incredibly fun to drive, especially when I took the lead.”
“I could also take good care of the tires. However, unfortunately, it started raining during the second part of the leader’s race.”
“So, there was a need to reduce speed significantly in certain areas. After that, we switched back to using a set of soft tires and once again, the car exhibited good balance.”
“It demonstrates the significant improvement in tire performance when not stuck in traffic. Once again, it was an excellent race.”