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Max looks back with Lambiase on first victory: 'Quite emotional'

Published on 09 November 2023 by Florence Cobben

Talking Bull, Oracle Red Bull Racing’s podcast, recently featured Max Verstappen and his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase. Together they looked back on Max's very first win in 2016, on the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit.

Just before the fifth Grand Prix of the 2016 Formula season, Max Verstappen was promoted from his Scuderia Toro Rosso seat to Red Bull Racing. For Max this was a huge change: “It was pretty insane: joining the team the week before (the race), going through simulator sessions that I had to do, getting used to the car, the procedures."

“I honestly had no expectations at the time. I needed to learn so many things. Suddenly the pressure of being in a top team”, Max explains. “On the grid, I think Christian (Horner) came to me and he said, ‘Well, you know, just enjoy, no pressure, try to score a few points.’ So yeah, okay. It was my first race, I think he meant well, just no pressure: ‘Don’t do anything silly’, basically.”

Lambiase can remember the weekend well. While he was very impressed by the just-18-year-old Verstappen, he saw during qualifying that Max was just a little too enthusiastic. “It was his downfall in qualifying. He was almost so happy to be there, everything was going well, he felt he could keep going on based on talent, and keep chipping away at it, and he’ll keep finding time. Eventually, I think the last run of Q3 Daniel (Ricciardo) ended up pipping you.” Max agrees: “I tried to push too much, based on what I knew of the car, and I just overdrove it.”

Max recalls the race: “Turn four, it was a beautiful corner that day, in lap one, when two Mercedes cars just disappeared off the road. And then I knew: ‘Okay, we might be on the podium here, today, if I hold on in the race.’ Because, again, it was my first proper race in that car, so it was definitely different to what I was used to. In terms of speed, it was quite a bit faster. Well, how the race panned out: I could look after my tyres quite well, we did the two stop, I had to keep Kimi behind for quite a few laps.”

In the last ten laps, Max started getting nervous: “I kept telling myself: ‘This is gonna be my first win, I can’t lock up, I can’t do anything wrong here.’ And I kept telling myself that until the last lap, and I crossed the line and won the race. GP (Gianpiero Lambiase) was completely shocked.” That race remains unforgettable for Verstappen: “You work to get into Formula 1. You dream of being on a podium one day, of being on the top step. Once I stood there, it was quite emotional.”