Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021

‘It’s not all won at turn one’: Verstappen’s unrewarded qualifying heroics examined

2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen came within one corner of clinching pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, before clipping a barrier at the final turn.

Until that moment the championship leader was in supreme form throughout qualifying, immediately able to find pace which eluded his team mate and Mercedes rivals.

But as the radio communications from the session showed, Red Bull’s approach to the session didn’t always align perfectly with what their driver wanted. While Verstappen agitated for his team to arrange a slipstream for him, race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase urged their driver to focus on the game plan.

They came within one corner of pulling it off.


Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2021
Verstappen was flying throughout qualifying
Like many drivers, Verstappen was preoccupied by traffic during Q1. With all 20 cars attempting to set a time, and knowing Red Bull had no fear of elimination, most of his back-and-forth with Lambiase was inevitably focussed on avoiding other cars.

The threat posed by championship rival Lewis Hamilton was naturally a matter of interest to the team. He was late to set a competitive lap in the session, waiting over seven minutes before he put a time on the board.

By that point, Verstappen had gone to the top of the times and was watching to know whether the rapidly improving track conditions would mean he needed to go again to guarantee getting through.

Lambiase You’re currently P1 on a 28.6, P2 is Norris on a 29.1, Hamilton is yet to set a lap, he aborted his lap.
Lambiase We’ll stay out. Like I say, we think that’s safe, but we will stay out.
Lambiase Any changes to tools at this stage, Max for the next one?
Verstappen No.
Lambiase Ok, understood.

Verstappen was instructed by Lambiase to keep going with a double cool-down lap strategy in the mid-part of the session, before getting insight into where he was losing time to Valtteri Bottas after the Mercedes overtook him in the timings. The first sector, in particular turn one, was a key concern for the team during the session.

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Lambiase So Bottas P1, 28.0, in terms of the first sectors we are three tenths down to him, I think you know why. Middle sector is within half a tenth, third sector you are purple, half a tenth quicker. So just be aware now everybody behind you could be opening laps.

Verstappen’s qualifying would eventually end with a wall tap at turn 27 in Q3 but he nearly ran into trouble at the same corner towards the end of Q1 when he encountered a large queue of cars. Drivers had been instructed not to slow between turns 23 and 25, but several backed off after there, including Bottas whose engine had developed a misfire. As a result Verstappen almost literally ran into traffic.

Lambiase Max there’s too many cars just back out, back out, there’d be too much risk, you don’t need to take it. Box this lap, box this lap mate.
Verstappen Fucking hell, can I box? Holy shit.
Lambiase Yeah, I did just tell you that, box this lap.


After running double cool-down laps on the soft compound in Q1, Verstappen was told early in Q2 that he needed to “really focus on cooling the tyres”” on the medium compound. Otherwise, Lambiase was unwilling to give much away on the radio, avoiding answering questions from Verstappen while out on track.

Verstappen’s initial effort in Q2 was the first lap of the weekend below a 1’28. Per routine, Lambiase reminded him he was likely on the set of tyres he will start the race with. That proved correct, Verstappen’s time was easily good enough to put him in Q3.

Lambiase This could be your race start set, so look after it. Next car timed lap Giovinazzi, 3.5 – he’s at turn seven.
Verstappen Are you are you sure the lap is good enough?
Lambiase We’ll box this lap please, Max, box this lap.

After final practice Hamilton was investigated for failing to slow for yellow flags. He was judged not to be at fault as the accidental signal had been shown for less than a second.

Red Bull, who had been given a grid penalty in Qatar after Verstappen failed to slow for a double waved yellow flag, were clearly taking no chances of a repeat.

Lambiase Yellows ahead, may be yellows, yellows, yellows.
Lambiase And we’ll box this lap please, Max, box this lap.
Verstappen Was there a yellow?
Lambiase No idea.

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In the final part of qualifying, Verstappen’s focus was able to shift to outright pace and taking pole, rather than being preoccupied with avoiding traffic. With only 10 cars left on track, gaps became much easier to find. Verstappen worked on his problem with turn one, flagged in the first part of qualifying, where he was losing time to the Mercedes drivers.

Verstappen So some changes to be made for turn one.
Lambiase That’s right, yeah. Remember, the lap is not all won at turn one, though mate, the lap isn’t won at turn one. You’re quick enough in the rest of the lap.
Lambiase No threats behind in terms of push laps, track is clear ahead of you. Recharge off when you’re ready.

In the last third of the session, Verstappen boxed for fresh tyres after a discussion with Lambiase over Perez giving him a tow, which his engineer declined to entertain.

Lambiase Recharge on please, Max, recharge on. So question: we can box this lap for a fresh set if you’d like a balance adjust or we stay out and do the plan.
Verstappen I need a tow.
Lambiase That wasn’t the question. If the balance is out and you think… well, put it this way, we can put a fresh set and adjust the balance or we can stay out.
Verstappen Yeah, fresh set.
Lambiase Okay, understood, keep up the pace then please, box this lap, keep up the pace on the way in. Push push. You’re currently P1, 27.6; Bottas, 27.9, Hamilton 28.0 Checo 28.1. Box this lap.

The final adjustment, before his last out and flying lap, was talked through before Verstappen arrived at the Red Bull pit.

Lambiase Front wing adjustment, please, Max front wing adjustment.
Verstappen One more click.
Lambiase Understood, Max. Push on the way in. Keep pushing Max, now box.

But Verstappen was convinced he needed external help to boost his straight-line speed. The message, while Red Bull mechanics were making adjustments to and cooling his car, went unacknowledged.

Verstappen If Checo’s lap isn’t happening, just try to give me a tow.

The final-turn crash leaves Verstappen third on the grid
Verstappen didn’t have a tow for his final lap, but was exceptionally quick all the same. He set a personal best through the opening sector, and reeled off purple middle sectors in the mid-part of the lap.

He was on course to beat Hamilton’s time by three-tenths of a second as he approached the final corner. A tidy run through the turn 27 was all he needed.

“I thought, last corner, there might be still a bit to gain,” Verstappen explained. “I knew, of course, Lewis was a tenth, tenth-and-a-half ahead but I approached it like I always do in qualifying.

“But somehow I just locked up. I have to see if I actually braked later or not. For my feeling, I didn’t.”

Lambiase All okay Max?
Verstappen Yep.
Lambiase Okay.

“It’s just really disappointing because it was a really good lap up until then,” he admitted. I was really enjoying it.” Until the 27th turn it looked like being a lap for the history books.

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2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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12 comments on “‘It’s not all won at turn one’: Verstappen’s unrewarded qualifying heroics examined”

  1. GS (@gsagostinho)
    5th December 2021, 13:00

    The final-turn crash leaves Verstappen 27th on the grid

    The grid seems to be expanding!


    This vid shows Hamilton and Max qualifying run side by side.
    The key thing to note is Hamilton has no less than 5 slower cars on his run, whilst Max has none.

    Max could afford to go that bit harder knowing there were no slower cars ahead of him, Hamilton had to drive with his sixth sense alert to that other posibility. Had max’s time stood, it would not have been a true reflection of circumstance. History can be like that. raw stats and figure, not conveying the truth behind those figures.

    This is about the circumstance for those qualifying runs, which had to have played a significant part in their respective times.
    Its kind of like our exam system, where we see everyone sit the same exams, with no thoughts to the differing circumstance.

    1. Also who knows what part is played by the turbulance of those other cars on an enclosed circuit. Just a thought as we look at those qualifying lap time. History though will only see what might have been. I think Hamilton qualifying lap was equally ‘heroric’.

    2. None of the cars impacted Hamilton’s approach to any corner. Verstappen was a monster in the middle sector and blew the last corner. The gap to his team mate tells the story.

      1. Jay (@slightlycrusty)
        5th December 2021, 13:19

        Perez was only 2 thousandths quicker than the driver in 6th, despite being in the fastest car. Probably best to leave Perez out of it. I agree with Ajaxn, a stellar performance from Hamilton which forced Verstappen into an error.

        1. these guys keep bringing perez into the question like he was ever a superb qualifier. He never was. Was often shown the way by Kobayashi, Hulk and Ocon on their 2nd season together.

          Good driver on sundays, average at best on saturdays.

      2. We can assume these guys have nerves of steel and watching a car come at you at 100mph while trying to thread your car into a 4 g corner absolutely requires nerves of steel.

        I do t know if it affected his lap. But the last runs were true to form seen in fp3 and Mercedes failure to get the soft fully engaged.

  3. It’s OK. He can just not save his progress and repeat the lap. Oh, wait a second….

    Seriously, it did look like he knew the track extremely well and that is most likely going to be due to his ‘game station’ attributes as CH puts it so cutely. There is an element of me that thinks that gaming influences the way he drives and the associated risks that he’s prepared to take. It was so close to perfection and appreciated every corner up until the incident. So hooked up!

  4. Slower cars do not make any difference for a driver on a flying lap unless they are forced to take the foot off the gas. This wasn’t the case yesterday.

    Verstappen flying lap will go to history even with the impact; similarly to Senna’s race in Monaco went to history books even when he ended up at the barrier. For a moment I thought I was watching a Senna reincarnation.

    I pray to God almighty to enlighten this young driver’s path to victory… it gives me something magical to look for and experience in an otherwise tough times.

    1. lexusreliability?
      5th December 2021, 14:06

      Sorry but this is cringeworthy Verstappen worshipping going on here. I will agree that Max is most like Senna (but not because of his ability). More because of his approach. That in itself isn’t saying much IMO as I don’t think Senna is the GOAT. His tragic death plays alot more in the nostalgic way the F1 world reviews his career. Prost was significantly more rounded as he actually defeated Senna in both seasons they were team mates on points. IN Senna’s championship winning year (88) Senna was champion because of the best 11 rule I think it was. There is more to being a great F1 driver than just raw speed. Montoya being a great example.

  5. Well, he turned an assured pole into P3 with a big question mark over what was a new gearbox. If that fails this race or next and Hamilton picks up the necessary points, the lap will definitely be remembered as the moment Verstappen lost the championship. P3 in itself probably doesn’t make much difference – leaving aside first lap or later incidents, the race will be decided by who has the faster car in race conditions or by how safety cars play out for the two contenders.

    In terms of the lap by itself, I don’t know. Looking at the lap, he runs close to the barriers/wall various times and locks up, braking as he turns left just have almost kissing the right-hand barrier, but stays on the power and almost gets away with it, but makes contact with the loss of traction/steering. My question is whether pushing like that actually gave him a significantly faster lap time than he was going to do anyway. Max’s speed is actually all about braking early and not harshly, balancing the car perfectly and getting back on the power early with maximum balance (power to all four wheels). Much like Hamilton in fact. So these ‘heroic’ laps full of quick reflexes can be deceptive – which makes his question to himself, whether he braked later than he usually does, maybe something of a giveaway.

  6. My point again. Knowing there are slower cars out there ahead on this blind circuit must surely have a baring on your speed and commitment. This is before you factor in turbulance on this very enclosed circuit. Max could afford to go all out knowing he was unlikely to run into stationary car.

    Whoever you are that fact must have a baring on your performance, this is irrespective of whether those slower cars were on the racing line, the fact is they are in view, they are in your peripheral view.

    In opinion Hamilton’s drive is greater for that reason. Max was out there driving a sim, with no other cars on the track, just like he had in the simulations.

    Let’s see how closely the sims match actual race conditions.

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