Are F1 Drivers Exploiting Verstappen’s New Driving Style?

In a video script for WTF1, originally from May 2023, Dre talks abiut the Verstappen/Russell clash during Baku’s Sprint and asks if drivers are exploiting Max’s driving style.

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Read time: 3 mins

Compared to 2022, this was probably a downer of a weekend for Max Verstappen in Baku. The 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix sadly didn’t have a great amount of highlight reel moments, but we did see some prime beef on display as Max Verstappen and George Russell had a rather heated war of words after a collision during the Sprint Race.

On the opening lap of said Sprint Race, Russell got a better start and he and Verstappen went side by side through the first three corners. The first and second corners both featured contact, the second of which punched a hole in Verstappen’s sidepod, damaging his car, costing it aerodynamic performance and forcing him to settle for third.

After the race there was a war of words between Max and George in Parc Ferme, with Max rather annoyed at George’s role in the incidents. George claimed he had no grip, Max responded by saying they all had no grip. As George walked away saying: “I know, I know. Well, watch the onboard.”, Max responded with: “But expect next time the same, you know?!” before calling George a dickhead under his breath.

The mud-slinging continued from both parties when the heat died down. George commented on being genuinely surprised that Max was so heated after the race, saying: 

“When he came over to me, I thought he was going to say ‘good battle’ and ‘nice fight’. I was very surprised how angry he was. From my side, his position was already lost. If you’re on the inside on the apex of a corner, it’s your corner. And if a driver’s trying to resist a position on the outside, they’re taking a huge risk. On lap one, 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.”

Max on the other hand, doubled down on defending himself during the clash, first to Sky Sports by saying: “It’s a bit of common sense what you do on the first lap. They are off the pace, and to risk that much on lap one, I think it’s not very rewarding anyway because I would get him anyway within a few laps. I had a hole in my sidepod, but he could also get a puncture, and then his race is over as well.” 

…only to save what he really thought for his friends in the Dutch media saying: “[Defending] is not allowed because Princess George is there? At the end of the day, that’s his problem too.”

Max’s actions were a stark contrast to just one race ago. During the 2023 Australian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton made an aggressive pass on Max, squeezing him on the opening lap. Max backed out of the move, but then came back to pass Lewis later in a race he’d go on to win. It was a sign that Max might be taking less risks and dealing with his rival more conservatively. A big difference when compared to the title fight in 2021, where Max had several clashes with Lewis that were punished, such as Monza and Saudi Arabia. Baku 2023 might have been a reminder of the old, angrier Max rising back to the surface. 

There were also references to a previous clash with Esteban Ocon in 2018. After the race in the Parc Ferme area, Max shoved Ocon, and a potential fistfight was broken up by the FIA. It was an incident that was remembered by George himself in the Baku aftermath: “Yeah, I saw the Ocon incident in the past… He’s leading the championship, [so] it was a little bit surprising. It’s a racing incident. I don’t need an apology, but he probably let himself down with those comments. Max is a super good guy, great driver, just words like that are a bit unnecessary.”

Baku’s 2023 sprint race felt like the start of the next chapter of antagonism between Max and Mercedes, only instead of Lewis, it’s now the man who could now lead Mercedes into the next generation of the sport. Red Bull being as dominant as they have been since the middle of the 2022 season has probably played a role in Max being involved in less drama. But if Mercedes can come back with a title-contending car, could Verstappen vs Russell pick up where Hamilton left off? 

Who do you think was to blame for the Russell/Verstappen clash? And did Max go too far in his criticism of George? Let us know in the comments, and if you liked the video, be sure to subscribe!

About the Author:

Dre Harrison

Leader of a Broadcast Journalism University project that went WAY out of hand. Even managed to parlay it into a WTF1 gig for a little while.

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