Although Max Verstappen only built up a nine-second advantage during the longest uninterrupted stint at the Australian Grand Prix, George Russell believes the Dutchman was downplaying Red Bull’s superior pace.
That, he says, is because Red Bull don’t want the FIA to step in and do something to negate their advantage.
Verstappen himself admits he didn’t need to get his elbows out during the restart battles with the Mercedes team-mates at the Albert Park circuit, after all he “knew that we had a quick car so even losing one or two spots was not the end of the world.”
While Russell’s challenge was undone by the timing of the race’s first of three red flags, Verstappen made short work of Lewis Hamilton once DRS was available after the initial restart.
He built up a nine-second advantage over the seven-time World Champion as he looked to be cruising to Red Bull’s third race win of the season, even a grass-cutting off did little to hamper him and he almost immediately regained the second he’d lost.
And that, reckons Russell, was all done while not pushing his RB19 too hard given that he doesn’t need to, nor do Red Bull want him to.
“For sure they’re holding back,” the Mercedes driver said via the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast.
“I think they are almost embarrassed to show their full potential because the faster they seem, the more that the sport is going to try and hold them back somehow.
“I think realistically they probably have seven-tenths advantage over the rest of the field.
“I don’t know what the pace difference looks like at the moment but Max has got no reason to be pushing it nor has Red Bull.
“They’ve done a really great job to be fair to them. We can’t take that away, and we clearly have to up our game.”
Verstappen clinched the win at the red flag interrupted grand prix but Red Bull failed to secure the 1-2 for the first time this season as Sergio Perez, starting from the pit lane after his qualifying crash and subsequent new parts, could only recover to P5.
Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko says that’s a sign that Red Bull’s rivals have begun to close the gap.
“You can see how close it is when a little thing doesn’t work out because we’re always said to have a superiority that only exists when everything is running smoothly,” he said on Sky Deutschland.
“Our rivals Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes have made gains.”
Even if they have though, Red Bull have almost double the points of their nearest rival in the Constructors’ Championship with 123 on the board after three races. Aston Martin are second on 65 with Mercedes nine behind them.
Verstappen continues to lead the Drivers’ standings with 69 points, 15 ahead of Perez, who is nine ahead of Fernando Alonso.