George Russell claims Max Verstappen is being “less aggressive than he’s ever been in the past” when it comes to racing other drivers due to the dominance of his 2023 Red Bull car.
Verstappen was criticised by several of his fellow competitors for his combative defensive driving throughout 2016, coming under fire again following a run of five incidents in six races at the start of 2018.
After appearing to settle down behind the wheel in the intervening years, the closing stages of an encapsulating title battle with Lewis Hamilton in 2021 saw Verstappen get his elbows out again, much to the dismay of the Brit’s Mercedes team.
However, Verstappen’s wheel-to-wheel combat has been more in check this year, highlighted notably by his willingness to not fight either Russell or Lewis Hamilton on the opening lap of this year’s Australian Grand Prix.
Therefore, Russell believes that the superiority of Red Bull’s RB19 car, that has won all seven races this year, means Verstappen is no longer in a position where he needs to battle as hard.
When asked by Autosport about the mutual understanding the younger generation of drivers have when it comes to racing etiquette – a point discussed by Verstappen late last year – Russell, who got embroiled in a heated exchange with the Dutchman in Baku earlier this season, said: “I think we all know each other pretty well.
“We know each other’s driving styles, we know the risks one another take.
“I first raced against Max and Charles, and Esteban [Ocon] actually, in 2011.
“I actually raced against those guys before I ever raced against Alex [Albon] or Lando [Norris], which is a bit interesting considering the nationality differences.
“But, equally with Alex and Lando, [we] grew up in go-karting watching other races. So, I’d always be watching Alex racing in the age category above, or Lando in the category below.
“We know each other and probably that does contribute towards how we race one another.
“But, equally, when you’re battling for a championship you fight slightly differently and equally now Max is probably less aggressive than he’s ever been in the past, because he’s not in a position that he needs to be aggressive.
“And he can lose a position and know that he’ll get it back later down the line.
“Whereas we’re probably in a bit more of a ‘do or die’ position now to get that one chance of victory throughout a season.”
While Russell accepts Verstappen has tempered his aggressive approach, the one-time F1 race winner contends that there are “maybe three drivers on the grid who you wouldn’t feel comfortable going against”.
“There’s a trust between most of the drivers,” he continued. “I don’t think [those three unnamed racers] have the spatial awareness of others.
“So, actually you prefer fighting hard against the great drivers because you know that they’re going to be able to control their car better and place it in hard positions but not dangerous positions comparing with somebody who maybe isn’t at the same level as the best.”