Max Verstappen, Red Bull and George Russell, Mercedes, Baku City Circuit, 2023

Mercedes dismiss Verstappen’s criticism of Russell: “He defended well”

2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Max Verstappen’s vehement criticism of George Russell’s driving following the collision between the pair in yesterday’s sprint race left Mercedes’ team principal unmoved.

Russell was trying to pass Verstappen on the inside of turn two when the pair made contact while disputing third place on the opening lap of yesterday’s encounter. Although Russell claimed the place, Verstappen was able to overtake him after the race restarted.

The collision infuriated Verstappen, who confronted his rival after the race and called him a “dickhead”. However Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said Russell “defended well” and Verstappen put himself in a vulnerable position.

“I think it’s dangerous to overtake from the outside because you could either end up in the run-off or you can end up in the wall,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans. “Or you can have somebody on the inside that is weak and gives you all the place in the world.

“But on the inside, it’s quite an angle you need to achieve. And if you try to turn around there tightly, you’re going to lose out on the next straight.”

However Wolff said he understood why Verstappen was angry afterwards. “That’s a race situation that is, you’re trying the outside, that’s never going to be an easy position. They collided, he had a big hole in the car and that’s certainly sub-optimal for your race. It’s absolutely understandable that he’s upset.

“On the other side, George defended the position, and that’s also clear that they’re going to do that. So it’s not the first time, I guess, they had this situation between each other.”

The stewards did not investigate the collision between the pair. Wolff suspects Verstappen’s frustration was partly a result of his team mate winning the race. “They are all upset when they lose,” he said. “If your team mate [is] winning and you finish third and you haven’t got performance in the car because you have a big hole, absolutely you’re upset.

“Each of them vents that differently. As long as you’re authentic, that’s good and Max is quite outspoken. Probably forgets about it one hour later. That’s okay.”

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2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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11 comments on “Mercedes dismiss Verstappen’s criticism of Russell: “He defended well””

  1. Last time I checked, defending hapens by the car in front. I know Mercedes has gotten their cars quite wrong these last few years, but surely they haven’t forgotten how racing works?

    Directly after the ‘race’, Russell explained he had no grip, resulting in a crash with Verstappen. You can’t backpaddle later when Mercedes corporate reminds you of the fact you have to hate everything that comes from Red Bull.

    1. Last time I checked, defending hapens by the car in front. I know Mercedes has gotten their cars quite wrong these last few years, but surely they haven’t forgotten how racing works?

      Last time I checked F1 car steering worked in a similar fashion to normal cars and driving straight didn’t require little jiggles of the steering wheel, so i guess the regular wiggle of the RBR that Max was driving was probably due to some deliberate move of the steering wheel.
      It’s a bullying tactic he’s used for years. His problems come when someone calls his bluff.

      I regard it as sad, he’s a talented driver underneath all the petulance.

    2. This! confusing having the inside line with what car is ahead and not understanding that a combination of both determines what to do. Russell’s mistake have a worrying pattern. I am sure inside Mercedes they are worried as well as the basics sometimes seem to be thrown put of the window on his part. Lewis has had his share of front side contact on backside of a RB but at least we know it was tactic from his side and not ignorance.

  2. If you crash into another driver, you didn’t “defend well” enough.

  3. Racing incident. Russell could have left more space, Max could have backed out earlier. 50/50. Max could have been calmer in his post race assessment. He had plenty of those types of contacts earlier in his career. I guess he’s not used to being overtaken in the last 18 months.

    1. I guess he’s not used to being overtaken in the last 18 months.

      The only thing that’s kept Max relatively crash free in that period is the lack of a Mercedes for him to crash into, Leclerc and Saintz in the Ferraris are poor substitutes as they duck out of the way.

      1. No, the Ferrari drivers are better skilled. Some of the best wheel to wheel action recently was between Max and Charles whereas the Mercedes driver get red mist clouding their abilities.

    2. Max didn´t need to back out, he was in front. Ramming Russell was the one that should have backed out.

      1. Exactly. The fact that George’s front wing/tyre punched a hole in Max’ sidepod shows he didn’t have the corner as he suggested. Max would have had to slow down considerably to back out and let him through which would have been silly. He had the straighter line out of the corner and would have been comfortably ahead on the straight if it wasn’t for contact.

      2. Exaxtly, why back out if you are the car in front? Russell should back out. Especially when you in hindsight admit to having no grip. But in his defence, he is driving to his abilities and hasn’t really shown to be ready for the big league yet and it was a first lap incident. Lewis and Max have done their shares in their Rookie years, so there might be hope for George but he will need to improve this season. I am sure Mercedes is looking beyond Russell already should he not improve sufficiently. They’ll need a plan b. Leclerc? Norris?

    3. @shakenbake Well summarized.

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