George Russell has theorised that a young, raw Max Verstappen could have had his career damaged if he had battled against Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in the early stages of his F1 career.
Comparing the early stages of their F1 careers, Russell really had to bide his time to get his chance at Mercedes by spending three years effectively out on loan at Williams, who were very uncompetitive at the time.
Verstappen, meanwhile, was fast-tracked into the prime Red Bull seat after little over a season at Toro Rosso, replacing Daniil Kvyat from the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix and beyond, a race where the Dutchman would land a historic first win.
Discussing whether Russell feels he actually has an edge now by spending so much time initially racing in F1’s basement, the Mercedes driver brought Verstappen into the equation had his early F1 career path taken a different turn.
“I think that’s something you would never know,” Russell said in an interview with Square Mile.
“It’s something I tell myself because I like to be glass half full and I want to take the positive out of every situation.
“But I could sit here and say I lost three years of my career because I was in a car that was right at the back of a grid and I couldn’t fight for wins.
“Or you can see all the positives from my time there. I look at those years now thinking, “Yeah, perhaps I did learn more racing at the back compared to what some of my rivals may have done being thrown in the deep end from the beginning.
“Some drivers have been thrown in at the deep end early and it’s hurt their careers.
“For example, Max Verstappen obviously got his promotion after 18 months, but perhaps if he went into a team like Mercedes against Lewis Hamilton at the peak of his powers, it could have damaged his career.
“So you’ve got to look at it from both sides, and for sure Max was a greater driver after three or four years under his belt compared to where he was after 18 months under his belt.
“If you’re going up against a guy who’s absolutely in his prime and dominating in the car that he’s so used to, maybe he wouldn’t be in the position he is today.”
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Although it may have taken Russell longer than he would have liked to rise up towards the front of the F1 grid, he is quite level-headed about how his F1 journey has unfolded so far.
He added: “I’ve got to be grateful for the people who have advised me and helped me and nurtured me to this position. In those three years that passed by, perhaps I could have been fighting a bit higher up the grid, but if I wasn’t in a Mercedes, I wouldn’t have been fighting for championships.
“So what’s the difference for me? At the end of the day, I want to win championships and if I was at the back of the grid or let’s say if I was fighting for top sevens, to be honest there’s no difference.
“Ultimately, I’m happy with where I am right now.”
Russell will be hoping more consistency comes his way when F1 resumes in Baku at the end of month after a real mixed bag of results in the first three races of the 2023 season.
A P7 in Bahrain was followed by an encouraging P4 in Jeddah, before an engine failure in Melbourne ended all hopes of success at the Australian Grand Prix, a race which he was leading on merit before a series of unfortunate events ruined his afternoon.