Max Verstappen believes George Russell will provide a much stiffer challenge to Lewis Hamilton if he is confirmed as replacing Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes.
Russell is expected to be named as Hamilton’s teammate for next year in the coming weeks, with Bottas poised to join Alfa Romeo. While no announcements are currently planned for this weekend at the Dutch Grand Prix, Verstappen says he expects the 2018 Formula 2 champion to change the dynamic at Mercedes and push Hamilton hard.
“If he joins then for sure he will make it very difficult for Lewis,” Verstappen said of Russell. “He jumped into the car in Bahrain (in 2020) and basically from Lap 1 he was making it very difficult for Valtteri, so you can only imagine the more experience you gain in that car and the more you get accustomed within the team, naturally you’re going to get faster.
“When you do your first race you’re guided by the team about setup direction because you just don’t know what to do really, initially, with the car. I remember my first race at Red Bull, the thing I said was is that we will just follow a bit what Daniel (Ricciardo) is doing because I have no clue about what this car needs to go quick. Even though F1 cars look pretty similar, the way of setting them up can be very different.
“Already what you could see with the performance he (Russell) did in Spa was really good. Of course, they set up the car a bit more for wet conditions but nevertheless to do that in a Williams was very impressive. I do expect him to do very well if he gets that seat.”
Verstappen believes Hamilton is likely to face a tough time this weekend at Zandvoort, where a partisan home crowd will be largely supporting the Dutch driver.
“I look at it like this: When you go to a football match, you come into the home ground, the opposition will be booed at some point and it’s not up to the local club to go on to the speakers and say, ‘Guys, you cannot boo’ as it will naturally happen. Also in football, they are very passionate and they support their local team.
“I don’t think it’s up to me to then say, ‘Guys, you cannot boo’ because at the end of the day I am not them and I have to just focus on what I am doing on the track. I am pretty sure that most of them are here for a great weekend to see cars racing and of course, some of them will boo. I cannot decide for them. You can do it and say ‘you cannot do this’ but do you really think they’re going to listen to me? I just hope that they will have a good weekend.”