Max Verstappen hit out at George Russell after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix sprint first-lap touch that left him with minor damage to his Red Bull, saying the Mercedes driver’s approach “doesn’t make sense”.
Russell dived down the inside of Verstappen for third into the race’s first corner after making a better start.
They made very slight contact at that point, then a harder hit at Turn 2 that sent Verstappen slightly sideways and left a hole in the Red Bull’s sidepod. There was a further close call at Turn 3 before Russell got conclusively ahead.
Verstappen was seething over the radio afterwards, and though he later repassed Russell for third at a safety car restart, he was still angry at the end of the race.
After examining the damage to his car, Verstappen appears to have gone over to an apologetic Russell in parc ferme.
The very start of the exchange was not captured by the TV cameras, but Russell was heard telling Verstappen “it’s not purposeful, mate, I got no grip. I’m just locking up!”, to which Verstappen made a dismissive noise and retorted “mate, we all have no grip! We all need to leave a little bit of space”.
Russell replied “I know, I know!” then added “well, watch the onboard”.
That prompted a “yeah, sure” from Verstappen, who then yelled “but expect next time the same, you know?!” at the departing Russell, then muttered “d**khead” under his breath before moving onto congratulate race-winning team-mate Sergio Perez.
In his interview immediately afterwards, Verstappen was strongly critical of Russell’s driving and attitude.
“I just don’t understand why you need to take so much risk on lap one,” he said.
“He understeered into my sidepod, created a hole. We all have cold tyres, it’s easy to lock up.
“He has this beautiful way of explaining, ‘ah mate, you know, I locked up, ah, look at the onboards’. It doesn’t make sense.
“But it’s fine, we still got into P3, got some good points.”
The damage on Max's car is huge 😮
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 29, 2023
Asked in the press conference if he felt he had left Russell adequate room, Verstappen made reference to past collisions between Mercedes and Red Bull drivers such as his and Lewis Hamilton’s clashes during their 2021 title fight.
“I think I did [leave space],” he replied. “We definitely got around the corner without him hitting the inside barrier. So I think I did leave enough space but apparently it’s hard to not hit a Red Bull car, I guess, for them.”
Russell felt he had nothing to apologise for and was bemused by Verstappen’s stance.
“I was down the inside. As a driver, you know the risks when you’re on the outside,” he told Sky.
“I’m here to fight, I’m here to win. I’m not going to hold back just because he’s leading the championship.
“I was quite surprised he was still trying to hold it around the outside, he’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. I was quite surprised that he was resisting the position. I was on the inside. There’s nothing I can say other than that.
“I was surprised he was so angry, to be honest. He still finished the race in P3.
“It’s a difficult situation and he’s got enough experience to know that if you’re trying to overtake a guy on the outside, the guy on the inside’s going to run wide into you.
“I don’t think anything would have been different had the positions been reversed.”
Russell also told Sky that he expected Verstappen to say “good battle, nice fight” when the Dutchman came up to him. “I was very surprised how angry he was.”
He suggested he didn’t hear much of Verstappen’s rant beyond what was apparently an initial burst of swearing, and said of keeping his helmet on: “I saw the Ocon incident in the past…”
This was, of course, in reference to Verstappen giving then-Force India driver Esteban Ocon a shove during an altercation following their collision in the 2018 Brazil race.