F1 season preview as Max Verstappen looks to defend world title
Former F1 world champion Damon Hill has backtracked on his interpretation of Max Verstappen’s row with George Russell at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Having initially supported the Mercedes man, Hill has since claimed that he pushed it too far when damaging the reigning champ’s Red Bull sidepod during the sprint race.
With Russell starting fourth and Verstappen third after Saturday’s first-ever sprint shootout, the pair went toe-to-toe over the opening three corners, culminating in the Brit making an audacious move up the inside at Turn 3.
Contact was made as he skirted past Verstappen to move up a place, leaving a gaping hole in the Dutchman’s sidepod. According to Red Bull boss Christian Horner, the damage may have cost him almost one second per lap over the remainder of the race, which he finished in third behind Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc.
At the time of the opening-lap incident, Russell was bailed out by Hill, who told Sky Sports: “It’s racing. If [Verstappen] wanted to stay out of trouble he should have got pole position. It is the default mindset of someone like Max that they are always right.”
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Having stewed on the incident for 24 hours, Hill took a different viewpoint after Sunday’s Grand Prix, in which Verstappen finished in second behind Perez. On whether Russell was blame-free for his gutsy approach, the 62-year-old explained to the F1 Nation podcast: “Since they’ve made the cars more robust, contact is seen as more acceptable.
“But when you go into someone else’s sidepod and damage their aero and potentially put them out of the race, that is probably a bit too much. I would like to see less contact but it’s difficult to ask people to provide entertaining racing and not take any risks.
“Taking a risk implies that there will be times when it doesn’t work. But I don’t think it should be encouraged, trying to get them to barge into each other.”
Verstappen’s anger was clear for all to see at the time of the contact with Russell, immediately screaming at his mechanics on the team radio to ‘f***ing report’ the Mercedes star. The Dutchman angrily confronted Russell after the chequered flag on Saturday, calling him a ‘d***head’ under his breath and referring to him as ‘Princess George’ in a post-race media interview.
Hill does not believe that Verstappen’s behaviour was anything out of the ordinary, however, justifying his fiery antics as a natural part of maintaining a competitive edge. “[It was] playground stuff,” he insisted.
“They’re young lads, 25 years old, and they have fought in these competitions all their lives. They make it known that they’re not to be messed with. They can’t be the guy that gets rolled over so they puff their chests out from time to time.”
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