Andrea Stella, Pierre Hamelin, Gianpiero Lambiase, Michael Andretti

Unsung heroes: Four stars not in cars from the 2023 Formula 1 season

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It’s only natural that the drivers get the most attention in Formula 1. After all, they are the one who have the greatest direct impact over where they finish during race day.

But there are so many more people involved in determining whether a team succeeds or suffers during a grand prix weekend – and most work just as hard as the drivers do in the pursuit of perfection.

For this week’s Round Table, RaceFans’ writers celebrate the personalities outside of the cockpit who have impressed us most in 2023:

A working relationship

Red Bull race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase’s first experience of working with Max Verstappen was a successful one. The future thrice-champion, just 18 years old, won on his debut for the team at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen, Gianpiero Lambiase
Lambiase gives as good as he gets from Verstappen
But if Lambiase was expecting to be spared the full force of Verstappen’s direct manner on the radio in a season where they faced little opposition, he was to be disappointed. Verstappen’s characteristic bluntness and Lambiase’s take-no-nonsense manner remain much in evidence.

Known for his directness on the radio and concise communication, Lambiase and Verstappen often share heated exchanges over a race weekend. Most memorably this season was during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, where the pair locked horns after Verstappen was almost knocked out of the second part of qualifying.

Verstappen had pitted for soft dry tyres mid-session but ran off the circuit on his first flying lap. After some discussions about how many push laps they could fit in, Verstappen crossed the line with less than 10 seconds remaining, getting into the final part of qualifying by the skin of his teeth.

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Verstappen put Formula One Management’s radio bleeper to the test as he complained. “I should have [censored] pushed two laps in a row like I said,” Verstappen told Lambiase.

“But you’re through, Max,” his race engineer pointed out. “Yeah, but I don’t give a [censored] if I’m through in P10,” shot back Verstappen. “It’s just [censored] execution,” he replied.

Dripping with sarcasm, the engineer responded “Okay, and when the track was two seconds quicker for your final lap and you didn’t have any energy left, how would that have gone down?”

“But you tell me what you want to do in Q3 and we’ll do it,” Lambiase continued. “Let me know – sets, fuel, run plan…”

Verstappen, of course, ended up on pole, and actually apologised for his “rant.” Lambiase took it on the chin. He is uniquely well-suited to dealing with Verstappen’s outbursts and – most importantly – extracting the best from his driver.

Of course, when most people in a workplace clash, it’s not broadcast to millions of people’s homes, but the way Lambiase reacts to Verstappen has become a huge part of his success. Thanks to Lambiase’s calm and level-headed nature, together they have carved out three world championship titles and have created one of the most decorated driver-engineer partnerships Formula 1 has ever seen.

As Verstappen pointed out, it’s “more like a marriage,” one which the Red Bull family no doubt lasts a long time.

Claire Cottingham

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A Stella appointment

Andrea Stella has clearly done a superb job as McLaren team principal. In his first season in charge the team got nine grand prix podiums, a sprint race win and three further sprint race podiums. Only Red Bull reached the rostrum more often.

Andrea Stella, Lando Norris
Norris was pleased with McLaren’s progress under Stella
That didn’t look like being the case soon after he assumed the role when he replaced Andreas Seidl one year ago today. During Seidl’s three seasons as racing director, McLaren had been on a downwards trajectory in the constructors’ standings and went into 2023 with one podium from the last 30 grands prix.

Two races into this season, McLaren had a best finish of 15th, and Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri were yet to trouble the scorers. Stella, who acknowledged at the launch the team had made a mis-step with their latest car, made changes to the personnel structure underneath him. The team split with their technical director, with the responsibilities of that role given to two people for 2023 and three for 2024. Stella also appointed Piers Thynne as the team’s chief operating officer. The changes paid off and the team was soon on an upward trajectory.

Given Stella’s input was more in operations than car design, it’s fair to say he did have a strong impact on the squad’s performances. McLaren’s pit stops improved and they was less decision-making that left the drivers unhappy than in 2022.

Out of all of the paddock’s senior team figures that media got to regularly speak to through 2023, Stella was the one who was the most enjoyable to hear from. He could go into detail about how his team operates, clearly showing how involved he is, and his thoughts on topics that did not necessarily impact his team but he was asked about anyway were usually well-considered too. If another F1 team principal was to go down the podcast pipeline, then Stella would be the ideal candidate.

Ida Wood

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Ham-elin radio

After crossing the line to win last year’s Dutch Grand Prix, Max Verstappen mocked the newly-released F1 Manager ’22 game for giving his race engineer, Gianpiero ‘GP’ Lambiase, a criminally low overall rating of just 84.

“I think your rating went up, GP, by plus two,” he joked after their tenth win of that season together. “I think you’re getting close to 90 now…”

Verstappen was absolutely right to be offended on his engineer’s behalf. But if the 2023 season proved anything, it’s that Pierre Hamelin of AlphaTauri is truly the most underrated race engineer in the paddock.

A race-winning engineer after his former driver Pierre Gasly triumphed in Monza in 2020, Hamelin found himself having to work with three separate drivers this season – Nyck de Vries, Daniel Ricciardo and Liam Lawson. After De Vries was unceremoniously jettisoned from his seat, Hamelin was able to coax excellent performances from both of his replacements.

But it’s more than just the nuances of helping set up a car for different drivers with different preferences and find a balance that works – it’s about communication. Listening to the service De Vries, Ricciardo and Lawson received on their radios this year makes a striking comparison with, for example, the Ferrari drivers.

While the radio waves at Ferrari are an endless stream of “will get back to you” and “we are checking” and Charles Leclerc pleading for more proactive information sharing, Hamelin FM is a masterclass in communication by comparison.

Clear, concise, calm. Hamelin knows exactly what to feed his drivers and does so with great skill, allowing them to focus all their brain bandwidth on executing the task at hand. It’s telling that while Ferrari were hit with multiple penalties through the 2023 season for impeding rivals in qualifying or even practice, Hamelin-engineered drivers did not commit a single such infraction over 22 rounds.

None of us are ever going to get the chance to race in Formula 1. But if you did, you’d want someone like Pierre Hamelin in your ear.

Will Wood

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Going global

In true sporting contests, those who aren’t strong enough to compete at the top level get beaten on the field of play. They are relegated, eliminated or fail to qualify.

Michael Andretti, Miami, 2023
Most F1 team bosses are against letting Andretti in
That’s not how it works in F1. The same 10 teams get to compete every year and if you want to take them on, you don’t earn the right to do so by showing what you can do: You have to buy your way in.

That much was spelled out clearly to Michael Andretti when he had the temerity to put his team forward for a place on a future F1 grid when the FIA opened a tendering process at the beginning of the year. “Buy a team,” insisted Mercedes’ team principal Toto Wolff.

Andretti had tried that before, of course – twice. He decided his best route was the not-unreasonable step of entering a new, 11th team into a championship with regulations that permit up to 13 but has failed to hit that figure for the last 28 years.

While the powers-that-be have reacted to his efforts to join the grid with condescending disregard, Andretti has repeatedly pulled rabbits from his hat.

Michael Andretti, 1983
Feature: The forgotten story of the first time F1 snubbed Michael Andretti in 1986
He has already committed to create a massive new premises for his rebranded Andretti Global motorsports empire. They won the Formula E title this year with Jake Dennis, scored victories in the hugely competitive IndyCar field and announced an expansion into the IMSA sportscar series, with an eye on WEC as well.

The F1 team deal was sweetened first by an association with General Motors’ Cadillac brand, then the announcement they will develop their own power unit for 2028 – meeting F1’s oft-stated desire to have more manufacturers join in.

Whatever hurdle F1 has thrown up, Andretti has taken in his stride. That being so, how much longer does this series which constantly tells the world how successful it wants to be in the USA intend to continue spurning an entry backed by America’s most recent F1 champion? It’s time for them to admit Andretti has made an irresistible case.

Keith Collantine

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Over to you

Do you agree or disagree with our writers? Do Red Bull deserve more credit for their achievements? Have your say in the comments.

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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17 comments on “Unsung heroes: Four stars not in cars from the 2023 Formula 1 season”

  1. Andretti not getting a place in F1 would be one of the greatest missteps taken by the sport in recent years. There is nothing to lose from it, except for the greedy teams. In fact, the next Concorde agreement should remove the historic gift payments given out to Ferrari, Mclaren, Williams, Red Bull and Mercedes and stiffen the cost cap to include even more aspects of spending.

    1. Yeah having Andretti and GM in F1 would be a big plus for the US audience in my opinion. Maybe the fall in viewing figures for US races in 2023 vs 2022 will give FOM pause for thought about whether they can ‘conquer’ the US market without some representation from a US team (I don’t mention Haas as I doubt Haas has the household name recognition that Andretti does)

      1. american f1 fan here. from 2016 my allegiances have changed from ferrari (kimi) batting dominant mercedes, upstart haas at times, redbull when battling dominant mercedes, and now ferrari/mercedes to battle red bull.

        but now, i will never root for any other team, other than Andretti. there is no other reasonable response to this situation. the existing teams obviously did the math, and realized their existing US fan support is greater, financially, than the anti-dilution fee + the increase of the pie with Andretti in the mix.

        can there be any other reason? if there was a grudge, or Andretti burned bridges in the past, that would not compare to a financial gain or loss. right?

        1. You won’t be rooting for anyone then, because Andretti isn’t likely coming to F1. And I hope the teams will continue to keep Andretti out. Coming in when things are good to reap the rewards without taking the huge losses and risk F1 had to go through during the pandemic. They’re even less likely to let him in now after political shananigans by the FIA recently.

          1. do you think Andretti , who partnered with cadillac (which is going to supply F1 engines) and who is building a 90 acre motorsport facility, is just trying to get into F1 for short term?

      2. Was their a fall in viewership when there were more races including Las vegas? If there was it must have been the rest of the world as I must be honest I cant understand why we cant keep F1 traditions when in the states instead of the false razamataz you see prevalent in US racing. I was waiting for them to say start your engines .

    2. Yea good luck getting the teams to agree to that especially when you include so many of it.

      And really the only cost cap not included are driver and top three employee salaries. Everything is under the cost cap or will be soon (like engines in next few years). Infrastructure spending is already covered.

    3. Andretti is not an unsung hero. Far from it. The reason why there is a lot of negativity about Andretti is the behavior
      of Michael Andretti. Instead of talking to the teams and explaining their plans he has constantly gone to the media. He has called the teams greedy and he believes in megaphone diplomacy. Going round the paddock with a piece of paper asking teams to sign support is the height of amateurism and naivety. Zak Brown who is a friend of Andretti when asked in the last seven days if he supported their entry said well first we need to know what their proposal is!
      Andretti announced his intention in 2022 and announced the link up with Cadillac at the beginning of 2023. We then were never told what the link up with Cadillac meant. Only one month ago did Cadillac announce their potential engine in 2028.
      One can only assume to help Andretti get in. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether it ever happens.
      Andretti is a long established good racing team. Never a race car designer or manufacturer. They changed their name to Andretti Global to give the impression they were a big outfit. To put into context Williams employ five times more people just on F1. So sorry Michael if after 10months yous till havent spoken properly to the F1 teams you get what you deserve.

    4. there’s plenty to lose from it. Michael Andretti is a failed son-of driver, a slob with terrible shoulders and pretentious shades trading on his family name to spend other people’s money. There’s no sign he’s up to running an F1 team, so the risk is it’d be another Haas, but the fail would be higher profile. It’s not like a spec series. And actually it’d probably be worse than Haas, who is an actual engineer and super achiever and even fits in with being a criminal :) and still is hands-off because he knows F1 is another level

    5. I like how you seem to think you know what the next concorde agreement will be as the teams have to agree it.
      The teams are the most powerful player in the negotiations.

  2. I love the idea of celebrating some top performers at teams. Inevitably though, this is focused on the people who made it into TV or in front of the media.

    Thought for next year: if any of the teams were willing to put up an internal ‘unsung hero’ for recognition and an interview, that would be fascinating, and a story we hadn’t heard before.

  3. I didn’t quite expect Hamelin to be in the mix, but I definitely agree with having him there & that note about impeding is interesting.
    While race engineers have a big responsibility in avoiding such scenarios, drivers also have their responsibility by simply avoiding the racing line as much as possible, especially if unsure whether a fast-approaching driver is behind because of not getting the info & having difficulties to tell from the mirrors.
    I do realize the thing about tyres getting dirt when off-line, but avoiding unnecessarily slow-driving on the racing line is simply common sense, which shouldn’t be too much to ask for, even more so at blind corners or fastest track sections, such as at the very end a la Circuit Gilles Villeneuve & Suzuka last chicanes, for example, where preparation to start a flying lap occurs regularly.
    From the Ferrari ones, Sainz’s case in the Canadian GP Q1 is definitely the worst & he was lucky not to get rear-ended by Gasly with a speed difference in the triple-digits.

  4. When Seidl left I was a bit worried since despite the results not being illustrious, I felt the team was building and he was a safe pair of hands, good things were going to come. Stella however has been fantastic. Presents as a very comprehensive, focused, clear-thinking person. I’m sure it’s no coincidence McL have done quite so well this year. With the new signings in January 1st 2024, and the fully operational new wind tunnel, McLaren should be on for bigger and better things. Time will tell.

  5. Nice article, it’s good to celebrate these kind of people. I love Lambiase’s attitude with Verstappen and it’s made me really appreciate how on the ball the engineers have to be! I knew much less about Pierre Hamelin so it’s nice to learn about him as well.

  6. Brilliant article.

  7. Nice, and well deserved, mentions.

    It’s telling that Ferrari, and Xavier Marcos Padros in particular, is being used as an example of how not to go about communicating with the drivers. It’s frankly baffling that he still has his job. Part of the blame had to go to Leclerc himself; as I understand it, Vettel was very involved in picking Verstappen’s current engineer, but then left to Ferrari (where he also suffered from this silliness).

    1. How could Seb have been involved with something that happened over a year after he left the team, not to mention GP wasn’t even in the team yet in 2014?
      Max simply received him because drivers always receive the same garage side, race engineer, & mechanics as the driver they replace or succeed & GP happened to be his RBR predecessor’s before the in-season team swap, so Seb had zero involvement as a third party at the time.

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