George Russell says Max Verstappen should have known the risks associated with trying to hold position around the outside of a corner after the two drivers made contact on the first lap of the Azerbaijan sprint.
Verstappen started third alongside Russell, whose third place grid spot gave him the inside line for the first three corners, and the Briton made the most of it by claiming the apex of all three and forcing the Dutchman to try to cling on with a wider line to hold position.
Both got through the first corner cleanly, but Russell’s front-right wheel tagged the left side of Verstappen’s car as they exited Turn 2, tearing a hole in the RB19’s sidepod and causing other minor damage.
Verstappen then slid wide at Turn 3, which gifted Russell the place until after the safety car restart, when the positions were swapped back around for good.
The Dutchman was furious about the collision and made a beeline for his rival in parc fermé, where they engaged in a brief argument captured by television cameras.
“It’s not purposeful, mate,” Russell said. “I’ve got no grip. I’m just locking up.”
Verstappen replied dismissively: “Mate, we all have no grip. We all need to leave a little bit of space”.
Russell walked away from the scene, but Verstappen shouted after him: “But expect next time the same, you know” before calling him a d***head under his breath.
Speaking after the exchange, Russell said he didn’t expect Verstappen to be so worked up about the contact.
“When he came over to me I thought he was coming over to say good battle, nice fight,” he said. “I was very surprised how angry he was.”
Russell said there was no ambiguity in his mind that he was entitled to claim all three corners with the inside line, protesting that it was up to Verstappen to avoid doing damage to his car.
“I think, from my side, his position was already lost,” he said. “Ever since eight years old in go karting, if you’re on the inside at the apex of a corner, it’s your corner, and if a driver is trying to resist a position on the outside, they’re taking a huge risk.
“On lap 1 on a street circuit, I was really quite shocked. He was trying to hold the position, but equally I’m here to fight. I’m here to win. I’m not just going to wave him by because he’s Max Verstappen in a Red Bull.
“He’s leading the championship, it was a little bit surprising from my side. I’ve got less to lose, and I went for it. Part of racing.”
Speaking to Sky Sports, Verstappen said Russell lacked perspective in trying to barge past a faster car.
“I mean it’s a bit of common sense,” he said. “I think you just have to picture yourself as well – I mean, [Mercedes] are off the pace, and to risk that much on lap 1 I think it’s not very rewarding anyway because I will get him anyway in the next few laps.
“The potential to damage your car as well, not only my car — of course I had a hole in my sidepod, but he could also get a puncture and then his race is over as well.”
The Dutchman suggested Russell lacked experience battling at the front.
“I would [have tried] to fight but not run into someone, because that’s not what you want to do – but that’s something maybe you also learn over time.
“I mean, of course I had my moments as well when I just started in Formula 1 where you make some silly ,mistakes or lock-ups or potential damage. Maybe it’s just part of the learning curve.”