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Russell: Verstappen "less aggressive than ever" in F1 2023

Mercedes driver George Russell reckons Max Verstappen is racing “less aggressive than he’s ever been” in Formula 1 because of Red Bull’s 2023 pace advantage.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position, George Russell, Mercedes-AMG, 3rd position, talk in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Verstappen is currently marching towards a third successive world title, with his 2023 successes so far featuring little in the way of the wheel-to-wheel scrapping that characterised his 2021 success over Russell’s team-mate Lewis Hamilton and his early 2022 fights against Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc

The Dutchman did mount a feisty defence against Carlos Sainz at the start of the recent Barcelona race, but that did not generate controversy after Verstappen kept enough of his car on track and Sainz felt “he defended well, ran me wide and did what he had to do”. 

Elsewhere in 2023, Verstappen caused surprise when he responded angrily to Russell’s minor contact early in the Baku sprint, calling the Briton "a d***head" during a post-race parc ferme exchange. 

All these developments follow Verstappen stating in late 2022 that he and fellow members of F1’s current younger generation “understand each other better” and suggesting that a perceived lack of understanding with Hamilton likely contributes to their repeated on-track clashes since the start of 2021.

Motorsport.com put this to Russell a few days before the Spanish GP, with the question also regarding his relationships with other long-term rivals on the F1 grid, formed over a decade and more of battling in the junior categories and now at the top of global motorsport, as part of the younger generation currently Verstappen heads. 

“I think we all know each other pretty well,” Russell replied. “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 [with that pair and Russell all born in Britain and competing in grassroots motorsport in that country].  

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, collides with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, collides with Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

“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 in 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.” 

Intriguingly, when asked about the importance of trust established with racing fellow F1 drivers, Russell suggested there were “maybe three drivers on the grid who you wouldn’t feel comfortable going against”. 

“There’s a trust between most of the drivers,” he added. “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.”

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