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The first sprint race of the 2023 Formula 1 season and while the race itself wasn’t all that thrilling there were still some fireworks, particularly between Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Mercedes‘ George Russell.
Verstappen and Russell qualified P3 and P4 in the inaugural Sprint Shootout. The two second-row-mates quickly found each other with some contact in Turns 2 and 3 on the opening lap.
The championship leader was not happy about this and continued to complain to his team about it.
After a safety car to retrieve Yuki Tsunoda’s rogue tire, Verstappen managed to overtake Russell but remained stuck behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc in P2 and his teammate Sergio Perez (the only driver who seemed to be able to manage his tires) in P1.
That’s 6 points in the standings for the back-to-back world champion but upon getting out of his car, he was not happy with one George Russell, and the two had a quick chat in Parc Fermé.
These two agreed to disagree, and names were called…
Russell opened his case by saying he had no grip on the opening lap. Fair point, but as Verstappen countered, no one does.
“You need to leave a little bit of space,” Verstappen said.
“I know, I know. Go and watch the onboards,” Russell countered, alluding to onboard camera angles of the incident.
Then expect next time the same, y’know,” Verstappen said as Russell walked to the Paddock. Then the Dutchman muttered one last verbal salvo.
Who Was Right In The Verstappen/Russell Baku Beef?
There was a little WWE flair to that discussion, wasn’t there? Well, they continued to plead their cases in the media pen.
Mr. Russell, the floor is yours.
Alright, noted. Mr. Verstappen; your rebuttal, please?
Just as they were on the track, neither one is going to give an inch.
As far as who was at fault, I’m not sure anyone was.
Sure, you can always argue that a driver should leave more room, but I think it’s a little wild to expect a ton of breathing room in the first 3 corners — all of them 90 degrees — on a tight street circuit like Baku.
Max could’ve backed out of it as well. I think if this happened later in the race with the field spread out, it’s a totally different situation. As far as I saw it, it was a racing incident.
That’s how the stewards saw it too, as they opted not to do anything.
Unfortunately for those of us that like drama, Max and George won’t meet on the first lap of the Grand Prix. Well, not unless Max has a horrific start or George has an incredible one.
Verstappen will start the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in P2, while Russell will start outside the points in P11.
Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle