The 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix will undoubtedly be remembered for the intense collision between Mercedes’ George Russell and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, an incident that not only added drama to the race but also reignited debates about the limits of racing aggression and sportsmanship in Formula One.
It happened in the early laps of the sprint race on the twisting Baku City Circuit, renowned for its tight corners and high-speed straights. Russell, looking fast, spotted a gap on the inside as they approached Turn 2.
Crash at Baku
But Verstappen closed the door too late. Wheels locked, carbon fibre shattered and both cars slid into the run-off. Although both drivers were physically unharmed, the incident led to a verbal confrontation that caught the attention of fans and media alike.
After the race, Russell attempted to rationalise the incident by claiming he had “no grip”, but Verstappen hit back saying, “We all have no grip; we have to give each other space”.
Verstappen’s frustration was caught on camera as he pointedly told Russell to “expect the same next time”, using a less than polite term.
Both drivers out of the race
The collision had far-reaching implications for both drivers and their respective teams. Neither car was able to return to the race, resulting in the loss of vital points in an already tight championship battle.
It also has the potential to ignite or exacerbate inter-team rivalries and tensions at a time when both Mercedes and Red Bull are locked in a fierce battle for F1 supremacy.
The stewards had their work cut out, sifting through telemetry data, on-board footage and post-race interviews. The incident reignited discussions about the “racing incident” ruling, a somewhat ambiguous term that often leaves fans and teams frustrated. Although no penalties were imposed, the verdict divided opinion.
While some argued that Russell’s move was too ambitious for such a tight corner, others felt that Verstappen’s aggressive defence was uncalled for.
Russell speaks out on the incident
More recently, George Russell has made it clear that he does not expect an apology from Max Verstappen over their heated altercation during the sprint race at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix earlier this year.
The Mercedes driver claims that the incident is now ‘water under the bridge’, despite the tensions that existed between them at the time.
Russell: “Not the best of friends”
Russell, who addressed the issue on the Beyond The Grid podcast, said the adrenaline and tension of racing often leads to such heated moments and that an apology was not necessary.
“We’re all under extreme pressure, we all want to perform at the highest level. We respect the fact that none of us would deliberately try to crash into another driver.
“What you say within an hour of the race doesn’t matter. You move on. We might not be the best of friends for a couple of races, but we’re all mature enough to understand that’s part of the sport,” he said.
Russell: 2021 Abu Dhabi was not right
Interestingly, Russell’s bigger gripe with Verstappen seems to revolve around the Dutchman’s 2021 championship win, which came in controversial circumstances.
Verstappen secured the title after overtaking Lewis Hamilton on the final lap following a late safety car, a decision made by then race director Michael Masi.
On the subject, Russell refrained from outright conceding the validity of Verstappen’s title win, saying:
“You’ve only got to rewind back to 2020, when Mercedes built one of the most competitive cars of all time. Then in 2021, Max won the Championship.
“Or at least there was a battle between Max and Lewis for the Championship.” perhaps a comment on the lack of competition this year.
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