Russell: Verstappen career could have been ‘damaged’ by early move to Mercedes

George Russell believes Max Verstappen’s early career in F1 could have been damaged had the Dutchman joined Mercedes and been pitted at the outset against a “peaking” Lewis Hamilton.

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Verstappen was snapped up by Red Bull and promoted to Formula 1 with Toro Rosso as a 17-year-old teenager in 2015, the Dutchman transferring a year later to Red Bull Racing and winning his maiden Grand Prix in his first race with the senior bull outfit.

From a gem in the rough who was often caught out by his impetuosity, Verstappen developed into a blindingly fast and reliable racer, the young gun eventually putting two world titles under his belt.

But Russell reckons that Verstappen’s early career in F1 would have perhaps taken a very different turn had he been recruited by Mercedes as Hamilton’s teammate.

“If Max might have gone to a team like Mercedes and had to face a peaking Lewis Hamilton there, that could have damaged his career,” said the Mercedes charger in an interview with lifestyle magazine SquareMile.

“So you have to look at it from two sides. Max was a much better driver after gaining three or four years of experience compared to when he had 18 months of experience.

“If you have to compete against someone who is at his very best and dominates in the car they are used to, then Max might not be in this position today.”

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Russell’s own apprenticeship in F1 was conducted with Williams, and more often than not at the back of the field due to the poor equipment entrusted to him by the British outfit.

But in hindsight, the Briton sees his challenging three-year stint among F1’s laggards as a valuable schooling and period of preparation.

“I could now say that I threw away three years of my career because I was driving a car at the back of the grid and couldn’t fight for the wins, but I can also look at the positive aspects of my stint at Williams,” explained the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix winner.

“I now look back on those years and think ‘yes, maybe I learned more at the back of the grid than my rivals who have been thrown into the deep end from day one’.

“Some drivers were thrown in front of the lions early in their careers and that hurt their careers.

“I have to be grateful to the people who advised me and eventually put me in this position.

“In those three years at Williams I might have been able to compete a little further in front, but if I hadn’t driven a Mercedes, I wouldn’t have fought for the World title anyway. So what’s the difference?

“Ultimately I want to win titles and whether I’m fighting at the back of the field or for position seven, there’s no difference for me.

“All in all, I’m happy with how I stand now.”

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