‘Max Verstappen can’t race George Russell the way he races Lewis Hamilton’

Oliver Harden
Mercedes driver George Russell with Red Bull driver Max Verstappen at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku, April 2023.

Mercedes' George Russell with Red Bull's Max Verstappen at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Formula 1 pundit Peter Windsor was surprised that Max Verstappen did not make room for George Russell at the start of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix sprint race, claiming he cannot race Russell the way he races Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen was angered by the collision at Turn 2 on the opening lap of Saturday’s sprint race, which left a gaping hole in his sidepod.

After finishing third behind Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc, Verstappen confronted Russell in parc ferme with the Red Bull driver branding his Mercedes counterpart a “d**khead” in a heated exchange.

Russell later defended his role in the incident, insisting he won’t “hold back just because [Verstappen] is leading the Championship” and claiming that his rival has “a lot more to lose than I have” in the event of contact.

Speaking via his YouTube channel, Windsor feels Verstappen failed to make allowances for Russell’s aggression in wheel-to-wheel battle compared to Hamilton in Baku.

The collision came upon F1’s return to racing action for the first time since the Australian Grand Prix, where Verstappen was passed by both Mercedes drivers on the opening lap before breezing past Hamilton with DRS to retake the lead later on.

Windsor said: “It was always going to be an issue, I think, between Max and George Russell.

“I’ve got to say I’m a bit surprised that Max didn’t read that.

“I mean, if it’s Lewis Hamilton that’d been alongside him I think Max could have driven the first two corners the way he did, but with George Russell?

“And George’s history of what he does in that situation?

“Max is on the outside at Turn 1, got away with it, [is] on the outside going into Turn 2 which is really, really asking the guy on the inside not to make any mistakes.

“We’ve seen so many times the driver on the inside, if there are two cars abreast going into Turn 2 at Baku with the tyres not fully up to temperature, running wide with understeer and then inevitably hitting the guy on the outside.

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“I was surprised that Max didn’t just let George Russell go, because we’ve seen what George can do in that situation. Go right back to Jerez, the [2017] GP3 decider when he did that to his team-mate at ART, Jack Aitken.

“He does that. It’s the way George drives. He’s a really tough, hard racer.

“And of course they did touch and there was a big hole in the side of Max’s car after that.

“For a driver leading the World Championship with the front row of the grid [on Sunday], to me that was not the sort of thing that a Niki Lauda or an Alain Prost would have done.

“They would have said, ‘Right George, go. I’m going to DRS you within a lap or two, I’m not going to damage my car’.

“I suppose you could say, on the plus side, that just shows what a racer Max Verstappen is.

“Every corner, every lap, every race be it a sprint or a grand prix, he’s always going to want track position – a bit like Ayrton Senna.

“So you can’t criticise him for that.

“I’m just saying I’m surprised, I guess, that the management at Red Bull didn’t drum it into him more to say, ‘Look, if you’ve got George there be very, very careful.

“‘If it’s Lewis or it’s Carlos Sainz, you can probably get away with it.

“But if it’s George – and George makes a good start – there’s no way he’s going to back off.

“And you can read that. You can read that going into the race. That’s the way George is.

“He didn’t do it and so Max had to drive the entire race with this massive great hole in the left-hand side.

“I suppose the satisfying thing from [Red Bull chief technical officer] Adrian Newey’s point of view is that it really made the car difficult to drive and you’ve got to say that Max did a really good job to bring that car home in third.”