As the old saying goes, “to err is human”. While Max Verstappen may be dominating the Formula One circuit in 2023, he’s had his fair share of missteps along the way, proving that even future champions aren’t immune to the occasional gaffe.
One of the most memorable gaffes of Verstappen’s F1 career came during the 2016 United States Grand Prix – an error that left even the usually stoic Helmut Marko visibly frustrated.
Promising start gone wrong
The setting was the Circuit of the Americas. Verstappen had joined Red Bull at the start of the 2016 season and had quickly become a force to be reckoned with, even claiming victory on his debut with the team. Hopes were high heading into the US Grand Prix, and a top-four start seemed to herald another strong finish. However, on lap 27 things took an unexpected turn.
The pit stop fiasco
Verstappen’s race engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, who is still with him today, told him to “push”. In Verstappen’s mind, this was usually a sign that a pit stop was imminent. Without explicit confirmation from his team, he pulled into the pit lane, only to find his pit crew completely unprepared. The ensuing confusion resulted in the loss of valuable seconds and a flurry of confused expressions in the Red Bull garage.
Reflecting on the mistake
Years later, Verstappen can afford to laugh at that awkward moment.
“My engineer told me to push and usually that means I have to pit soon. It was only when I was in the pit lane that I realised that nobody had actually called me in,” Verstappen recalled.
“I suddenly saw all the mechanics scrambling. It was definitely embarrassing,”
In a sport where every millisecond counts, that mistake could have been disastrous. However, Verstappen’s race was retired shortly afterwards due to an engine failure, making the pitlane mishap somewhat irrelevant to the outcome of the race.
Helmut Marko’s reaction
Although the incident had no direct impact on the final standings, it did not go unnoticed by Red Bull’s race consultant Helmut Marko.
“Marko was pretty angry with me after the race,” Verstappen admits. “But hey, what can you say? I just said I made a mistake and ruined it, that’s all you can do. We make mistakes, we are not robots,”
One of Marko’s virtues is his appreciation of openness and accountability. Far from causing lasting damage to their relationship, Verstappen’s open admission of his mistake helped to forge the bond they share today.
“Marko likes it when you admit your mistakes,” admits Verstappen.
In hindsight, Verstappen’s 2016 gaffe is a powerful reminder that even the best make mistakes – and how you deal with those mistakes can be just as revealing as the wins and podiums. It also shows that the road to the top is sometimes punctuated by mistakes that turn into invaluable learning experiences.
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