Russell believes Verstappen would have encountered a tough time of things if he had been presented with the prospect of facing Hamilton – then the defending champion – in equal machinery at Mercedes during his formative F1 years.
“If Max might have gone to a team like Mercedes and had to face a peaking Lewis Hamilton there, that could have damaged his career,” he suggested in an interview with SquareMile.
“So you have to look at it from two sides. Max was a much better driver after gaining three or four years of experience compared to when he had 18 months of experience.
“If you have to compete against someone who is at his very best and dominates in the car they are used to, then Max might not be in this position today.”
While his talent was evident from the moment he burst onto the scene, Verstappen demonstrated his inexperience with a tendency to be erratic and impatient in racing combat.
But after a streak of five incidents in six races to open the 2018 campaign, Verstappen responded to the increasing wrath from the media by developing into the relentless results machine he has subsequently become.
Russell’s hypothetical proposition of pitting Verstappen against Hamilton in the same environment emerged from a conversation pondering his pre-Mercedes years with Williams.
The Brit spent three years with the Grove-based team that largely consisted of tackling lacklustre machinery only good enough for positions at the rear of the F1 field.
While Russell considers it perhaps a wasted opportunity, he believes driving at the back of the grid away from added scrutiny served him well ahead of his switch to Mercedes.
“I could now say that I threw away three years of my career because I was driving a car at the back of the grid and couldn’t fight for the wins, but I can also look at the positive aspects of my stint at Williams.
“I now look back on those years and think ‘yes, maybe I learned more at the back of the grid than my rivals who have been thrown into the deep end from day one’.
“Some drivers were thrown in front of the lions early in their careers and that hurt their careers.”
“I have to be grateful to the people who advised me and eventually put me in this position.
“In those three years at Williams I might have been able to compete a little further in front, but if I hadn’t driven a Mercedes, I wouldn’t have fought for the World title anyway. So what’s the difference?
“Ultimately I want to win titles and whether I’m fighting at the back of the field or for position seven, there’s no difference for me.
“All in all, I’m happy with how I stand now,” he concluded.
During his debut year with Mercedes Russell managed to achieve a feat that only two other drivers have achieved by out-scoring Hamilton across an entire season as his team-mate.
A solidly impressive first campaign at the front concluded with Russell holding off Hamilton at the penultimate round in Brazil to secure his maiden F1 victory, having already achieved his first pole position earlier in the year in Hungary.
The Kings-Lynn-born driver has continued to impress at the start of 2023 by out-pacing Hamilton in all three qualifying sessions to take place.
However, he is currently 20 points behind his more experienced counterpart after retiring from the Australian Grand Prix with an engine failure last time out.