By Alan Baldwin
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) – “Sparky” radio exchanges between Max Verstappen and his long-time race engineer Gianpiero “GP” Lambiase entertained a global audience during Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix but also raised questions about the rapport between the two.
Verstappen, completely dominant on track with his eighth win in a row for Red Bull, said all was fine and the pair had a very good relationship.
“Probably 50-50,” he said when asked how serious the comments had been.
In a season dominated by a champion now 125 points clear and whose team are in a league of their own with 12 wins from 12 races, any extra spice was to be welcomed.
After a sweary radio outburst during Friday qualifying, which Verstappen apologised for and which Red Bull motorsport head Helmut Marko compared to a tiff between “an old married couple”, the pair locked horns again on Sunday.
Lambiase told the driver to trust and follow his instructions.
When the engineer then informed Verstappen about expected rain and asked if he wanted to pit or stay out, the Dutch driver replied pointedly: “I can’t see the weather radar.”
“You used a lot of tyre on the out-lap Max, not sure that was sensible,” the engineer observed in another comment.
He also asked Verstappen to “use your head a bit more”.
The driver, who won by 22.3 seconds, came on the radio also in the closing stages to suggest he might do another stop for “a little bit of pit stop training” with the bonus point for fastest lap at stake.
“No, not this time,” he was told.
Team boss Christian Horner said the pair had a strong bond forged over years.
“GP and Max have been together since the first race that Max stepped into the car,” he added. “Max is a demanding customer and you’ve got to be a strong character to deal with that.
“GP’s our Jason Statham equivalent I guess, or certainly look-alike,” he joked, comparing his engineer to the tough-guy actor.
“He deals with him firmly but fairly and there’s a great respect between the two of them. And that comes out of a mutual trust that you must have…the only problem is that conversation between the two of them, there’s 200 million people listening.”
Horner denied any playing up to an audience.
“To race engineer Max Verstappen you’ve got to have strength of character, because he is one tough customer and many race engineers would crumble under that pressure,” he said.
“Sometimes it gets a bit sparky between the two of them but Max is the kind of character that will rev very quickly and will come down very quickly. GP doesn’t forget so quickly.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, Editing by Hugh Lawson)