On the opening day of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Max Verstappen didn’t have Gianpiero Lambiase as his race engineer, to the confusion of many.
During Free Practice 2 at the Yas Marina Circuit, Verstappen’s performance engineer, Tom Hart, took Lambiase’s role.
Lambiase has been Verstappen’s race engineer since the three-time World Champion joined Red Bull at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, with the duo having gone on to form a very tight partnership.
The reasoning for Lambiase not filling his usual role on Friday was later revealed by the Milton Keynes-based team, with Hart having been given the opportunity to practice the role.
In fact, Red Bull gave several employees an opportunity to practice a different role, with the team having already sealed both titles.
Red Bull effectively fielded an entire new squad on the opening day of the season finale, including, two new drivers.
To comply with the mandatory two rookie sessions, reigning Formula E World Champion Jake Dennis and Formula 2 driver Isack Hadjar replaced Verstappen and Sergio Perez in FP1, before the usual pairing returned for FP2.
In regard to Lambiase, Red Bull confirmed that he’ll be back in his role as Verstappen’s race engineer from Saturday onwards, ready for qualifying.
It’s been a difficult weekend for Verstappen so far based on FP2 and Free Practice 3, with him looking less than happy with the performance of his RB19.
The reigning World Champion ended Friday in third, before he could only salvage sixth in the final practice session before qualifying.
Verstappen was over seven-tenths slower than George Russell’s leading time, whilst Perez could only claim P11.
A Red Bull victory certainly doesn’t look a guarantee based on the team’s performance in the practice sessions, with Mercedes appearing to have the best package.
Verstappen actually had a run in with both Mercedes drivers during FP2 on Friday, after he decided to overtake both Russell and Lewis Hamilton in the unique pit-exit tunnel.
He brushed the wall whilst completing the odd overtake, which has since been addressed by the race director.
From Saturday, overtaking in the underpass is now a punishable offence, unless it’s done to overtake a car with an issue.