Gianpiero Lambiase Is the Man in Max Verstappen’s Ear

When Max Verstappen joined Red Bull in 2016, all Gianpiero Lambiase knew about the 18-year-old was that he was “this incoming superstar.”

Over the past seven years, in the pivotal role of race engineer to Verstappen, Lambiase has helped him win 53 Grands Prix and three Formula 1 drivers’ championships.

“When he arrived, he was incredibly raw, an uncut diamond, if you like,” Lambiase said of Verstappen, in an interview.

“There’s no doubt he’s matured as a driver and as a person. Year on year, and it’s fair to say the team has made a contribution, and I’d be upset if he said otherwise, but he has really evolved into a polished driver in all aspects.”

Lambiase, of Italian descent but born and raised in London, is the calm, measured voice heard over the team radio talking with Verstappen during Grand Prix weekends.

As race engineer, Lambiase is responsible for the operation of the car and interacts with the various specialists behind the scenes to ensure the team delivers “the most optimum package for that particular weekend,” he said.

Max Verstappen after the São Paulo Grand Prix in Brazil in November, one of 18 races he has won this season.Credit…Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Primarily, Lambiase is “the conduit between what the driver is hopefully feeling with the car and what the raw numbers say that the strategists are churning away at and crunching out.”

Lambiase siphons the information and tells Verstappen only what he needs to hear, like strategy, tire condition and the performance of rivals. “There’s plenty of information coming through, as you can imagine, but I’d say maybe 75 percent of it isn’t relevant to Max.

“He is operating at a high level. It’s obviously a pressurized environment, and he doesn’t need anything that’s superfluous in that situation.”

Even with Verstappen dominating, he remains a perfectionist, to such an extent that on occasion this season he has vented his anger and frustration at Lambiase.

During qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix, Verstappen swore three times in one exchange. During the race, Lambiase had to placate his driver after he questioned the strategy, and again later on as boundaries were pushed with tires.

“Conversations can get fiery, but that’s the way I like to approach our racing,” Verstappen said on Red Bull’s Talking Bull podcast. “We both want the best.”

Christian Horner, the Red Bull team principal, described the relationship between Lambiase, known as GP, and Verstappen as that of “an old married couple.”

“Max is a very demanding customer, he’s hungry for everything, and you’ve got to be a strong character to deal with that,” Horner said. “GP does a very good job in managing Max during the course of a Grand Prix weekend.

“He deals with him firmly but fairly, and there’s mutual trust and respect between them. The only problem is that when there is a conversation between the two of them, there are 200 million people listening.”

Lambiase understands the marriage analogy. “It comes down to the ability to be open with each other,” he said.

“For a healthy marriage, and for a marriage to succeed, that’s the core, and it’s no different to a very tight relationship, or bond, that is required between a race engineer and a driver.”

After just four races of his second season with Toro Rosso in 2016, Verstappen was promoted to Red Bull, and the two were paired together. Lambiase had only a few days to start to build a bond with the teenager.

“Meeting him for the first time, I remember he came to the factory for three days on the simulator, and that was quite an intense schedule of running to make sure he was up to speed with all of our operations and procedures, giving him a feel for the race preparation, and a qualifying sim, but he just picked up everything immediately the first time,” Lambiase said.

“In itself, from my perspective, that was a little bit intimidating. For him, it was just a case of ‘Who is this guy? Just another engineer I need to work with?’ But from the beginning, we got on well.”

Gianpiero Lambiase, left, and Max Verstappen at the USA Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, in October. “Conversations can get fiery, but that’s the way I like to approach our racing,” Verstappen said on Red Bull’s Talking Bull podcast. “We both want the best.”Credit…Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Verstappen made a dream start at Red Bull, winning the Spanish Grand Prix on his debut after Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, both of Mercedes, crashed into one another on the opening lap and were out of the race. From that moment, a star was born.

“That was very special,” Lambiase said. “There were two aspects to it, his overall pace and how he hit the ground running. You saw the race pace immediately from Saturday, so we were confident he would be quick on Sunday.

“With the Mercedes cars out of the way, it was then a case of tire management, and kudos to Max, his first race with us, for the last five-to-10 laps he was circulating on a set of really worn tires, with Kimi Raikkonen breathing down his neck, and what he produced was phenomenal.”

Despite that initial success, it was not until 2021 that Verstappen ended the four-year reign of Hamilton as drivers’ champion, since adding another two titles.

Verstappen and Lambiase have now become a prolific double act, building a personal relationship that “has come on so much in that time,” Lambiase said.

“We can talk about anything and anyone at any time. We are really open with each other, and the trust and honesty we have in our relationship are fundamental to that success.

“Generally, Max is quite a closed book,” Lambiase said. “It’s not like he’s the kind of person that will open up immediately to everyone. He’s got quite a close circle around him, but as soon as you’re in that circle, he’s a super guy.”

Before Lambiase joined Red Bull, he spent 10 years with Jordan/Force India, three as race engineer to the driver Paul di Resta from 2011 to 2013.

Di Resta can testify to the character and approach of Lambiase.

“He’s always been the utmost professional, he’s always been emotional,” Di Resta said in an interview. “He always gave me a hard time on the radio, we had our little arguments, but we always came out of it the other side.

“He’s also super intelligent. He’s an engineer who can work off a computer, but at the same time he has common sense. He will stick his hand out of a garage and say it is raining, without looking at a radar.”

Di Resta said he knew why Lambiase had earned the respect of Verstappen.

“He’s just prepared to throw everything at it, and he will be prepared to challenge his driver if he believes something is right,” Di Resta said. “The most important thing is you can see Max has a huge amount of trust in him.”

After the incident over the radio in Belgium, Verstappen apologized to Lambiase. Verstappen said at the time that he and his engineer “can both be quite vocal or emotional, but we always solve it afterward, so it’s all good.”

“I don’t even have to say anything now,” Verstappen said about their relationship. “If I have a bit of oversteer or understeer, GP will know what to change on the car for me to suit the way I drive.”

It is a level of trust that takes time to build, which is why Verstappen said he had “always been against switching race engineer.”

“They’re very crucial in your performance, so the longer you can stay together, the better,” Verstappen said.

How long will they work together?

“It’s for as long as the team wants me to work with Max,” Lambiase said, “and Max wants me to work with him.”

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