Did ‘a**hole’ Max Verstappen ‘just drive into’ George Russell collision?

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen puffs out his cheeks at the 2023 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen puffs out his cheeks.

Max Verstappen may have been an “a**hole” as he pushed Charles Leclerc off the track in Las Vegas, but it was his incident with George Russell that caught Robert Doornbos’ attention.

Verstappen clinched the victory at Formula 1’s inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix to extend his record for this season to 18 from 21 races, but it was by no means an easy stroll.

Racing Charles Leclerc for the lead on the opening lap, Verstappen was slapped with a five-second time penalty for forcing the Ferrari driver off the track.

‘Being nice doesn’t make you World Champion’

Leclerc felt his rival’s antics were “on/over the limit” and declared the penalty was fair, although he’d rather the stewards had ordered Verstappen to give him back the lead.

As for the Dutchman, he sarcastically told his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase to send the stewards “my regards” before later accepting that “was probably the right call”.

Former F1 driver Doornbos reckons Verstappen knew a potential penalty awaited him if the stewards ruled that he was in the wrong, but he took the “a**hole” route of not giving the position back.

“The stewards don’t want to be the ones to impose the penalty, they want to let the driver make the decision. And there was a moment for Max to do that, but then the adrenaline was still quite high and he was convinced that the corner was his,” the Dutchman told Motorsport.com. “You don’t give back that track position.

“It’s a rule that he knows is there. But on the other hand, when you hear that you’re already two seconds ahead, you think ‘Well, maybe I’ll take those three seconds also, so we will pass him at the pit stop. Then I’ll just run my own race.

“You know, being nice doesn’t make you World Champion. You also have to be a bit of an a**hole sometimes.”

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‘It is inevitable and then I will just drive into it’

That, though, was just one of two penalty decisions that involved Verstappen.

The other one later in the race included George Russell with Verstappen and the Mercedes driver colliding as the reigning World Champion snuck up the inside at Turn 12.

Verstappen lost chunks of his front wing while Russell was given a five-second time penalty for causing a collision.

“To begin with, it was quite a big blow, but Russell didn’t see it at all. He didn’t expect him there at all,” Doornbos said.

But with the crash taking place at a corner where Verstappen had already another overtake, the Ziggo Sport pundit adds: “At one point I noticed that he let go of the brake a little. That he thinks ‘There is going to be a crash now, it is inevitable and then I will just drive into it’.”

Despite the damage, Verstappen claimed the race win, crossing the line 2.070s ahead of Leclerc.

“That it was less clinical than before, as in Suzuka for example,” said Doornbos. “There he was terribly dominant, he drove away on the horizon and we didn’t see him anymore.

“With every victory this year, you sit there with your mouth open and wonder how he will do it again.

“It’s on a street circuit, you feel that tension. At the start of the race the sparks literally fly around your ears, because the cars are heavily loaded and of course a lot of bottoming.

“It was just nice to see Max on fire, as Helmut [Marko] also said. And he really enjoyed this victory, and so did we.”

But who exactly ‘just drove into’ whom?

While Doornbos does not make it abundantly clear as to whether it was Verstappen who acknowledged a crash was coming and drove into Russell or the other way around, it’s the lines they have at the time of contact that imply it was Verstappen.

Pulling up alongside Russell on his inside, if the Dutchman had released the brake he would have gone up the track as Russell would have.

But given that Russell was on the outside of Verstappen, if he’d gone up he would have moved further away from Verstappen.

Either way, it was Russell who the stewards felt was solely responsible for the collision and handed the driver a five-second time penalty.

The Mercedes driver later held up his hand, saying: “The incident with Max was totally my fault. I didn’t see him, he was totally in my blind spot going around Turn 11.

“I wasn’t really expecting the overtake there because we’ve got the big long straight with the DRS afterward.”

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