George Russell has given his side of the story after clashing with Max Verstappen at the start of the F1 sprint race in Baku, admitting he was surprised that the Red Bull driver was so incensed.
Russell and Verstappen made contact on the opening lap of the sprint in Azerbaijan as the pair fought over third place, with the Mercedes driver locking up into Turn 2 and touching the Red Bull’s sidepod with his right-front tyre.
The battle continued along the following straight and into the next corner, where Verstappen made minor contact with the outside wall at Turn 3.
Verstappen later repassed Russell to finish third and drew attention to a hole in his sidepod after the race before confronting Russell in parc ferme, with the two-time World Champion branding his rival a “d**khead” in a tense exchange.
Insisting the collision was not intentional, Russell was shocked by both Verstappen’s determination to hold on to the place and his reaction to the incident.
He said to Sky Sports F1: “I was down the inside and I think as a driver you know the risks when you’re on the outside.
“I’m here to fight, I’m here to win and I’m not gonna hold back just because he’s leading the Championship.
“I was quite surprised he was still trying to hold it around the outside.
“It’s on a street circuit, he’s got a lot more to lose than I have.
“None of the contact was intentional.
“I was doing my best just to have a clean fight and, as I said, I was quite surprised that he was kind of resistant to the position, I was on the inside and nothing more to say than that really.
“I was surprised why he was so angry, to be honest. He still finished the race in P3.
“It’s a difficult situation. He’s got enough experience to know that if you’re trying to overtake a guy on the outside, there’s a risk that the guy on the inside is gonna run wide into you and I don’t think anything would have been any different had the positions been reversed.
“So anyway, we’ll live to tell the tale.”
Having fallen in Q2 in Friday’s qualifying session, Russell was encouraged by his improved performance on Sprint Saturday after finishing fourth in both the Shootout and the race itself.
But he remains alarmed by Red Bull’s significant advantage when DRS is deployed, adding: “The car was feeling alright.
“I don’t think the feeling from within the car is the problem, it’s just we don’t have enough speed.
“Max just passed me like I was stood still. We know how fast their car is.
“To our calculations, we could even take the rear wing off and they’d still be faster than us down the straight – and that’s not even a joke.
“So we don’t really know how they’re doing it, they’ve obviously got a trick up their sleeve so kudos to them.
“But of course, we’ve got work to.”
Despite starting 11th for the grand prix, with Charles Leclerc on pole position, Russell is convinced that Mercedes have the pace to compete with Ferrari on Sunday.
He said: “I think we know where our fight is.
“Charles was struggling towards the end.
“We think we have probably a better race pace than the Ferrari, so I’ll do my best to fight with Charles and keep Carlos – obviously I’m starting from a completely different position, I actually forgot about that – but it is a long race, anything can happen if you’re fortunate with Safety Cars.