The war of words between George Russell and Max Verstappen continued into the Baku evening air.
On the opening lap of Saturday’s Formula One sprint race, Russell and Verstappen battled in one of the first corners on the Baku City Circuit, a left-handed turn near the start. Russell had the inside line, and as the two drivers executed the turn, Verstappen fought on the outside to keep position. Russell made contact with the left side of Verstappen’s RB19, and the defending Drivers’ champion had to fight hard to avoid colliding with the barrier.
You can see the incident from both onboard cameras in this clip from F1:
Verstappen eventually fought back, overtaking Russell after a restart and finishing ahead of the Mercedes driver, in P3. But the incident was not forgotten. Shortly after the finish cameras caught this exchange between the two drivers, with Verstappen still heated after the contact, which ripped a hole in the left sidepod of his RB19:
Verstappen also spoke about the incident following the race:
“Yeah, he’s very good in explaining and creating excuses. I mean, everyone had cold tyres, and I think I had every right to be on the outside. I also didn’t really risk anything too much, I gave him enough space, you know, because I knew we were going side-by-side. But, you know, you need two guys to work together, you know, to make the corner clearly.”
For his part, Russell did not back down from his position post-race, that because he was on the inside at the apex of the corner, he was entitled to the spot on the track:
“I was quite surprised. I thought he was coming over to say ‘good battle’ to be honest. You know, from my side, I was on the inside. The position was already lost from him, and I was really quite surprised he was still trying to hold it on the outside. You know, ever since we’re eight years old in go-karting, if you’re on the inside at the apex of a corner, it’s your corner. And if you try and hold it on the outside, you’re taking the risk.
“You know, 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 … I thought the move was on, and that’s about it, really.”
Not surprisingly, the team bosses reflected the viewpoints of their respective drivers.
“George and Max’s contact was a racing incident. One was trying to go around the outside and that is never going to be easy,” said Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff in a statement released to the media, including SBNation. “He picked up damage and that was sub-optimal for his race. It’s understandable that he would be upset but George was defending his position.”
After the race, Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner noted that Verstappen is an “elephant,” who will not forget the incident anytime soon. “I think he voiced his opinion to George, it’s probably a good idea he left his crash helmet on!” Horner said of that post-sprint chat between the two drivers.
“But you can understand that, he’s a competitive driver and when you get damage to your car and it affects your race, I’d be disappointed if he was just happy with that,” continued Horner. “He’s like an elephant, he’ll remember that, he’ll bank that for a while.”
How long Verstappen holds onto the memory is anyone’s guess, and the incident could linger beyond Baku. While Verstappen is starting in P2 on Sunday, Russell, who failed to advance to Q3 in Friday’s qualifying sessions, begins the Grand Prix in P11.