Max Verstappen believes George Russell’s Russian Grand Prix qualifying performance shows that the 2021 Williams is “not as bad people think” this season after the 23-year-old planted the Mercedes-powered car on the second row on Saturday.
After an excellent spell of form in the championship, Russell stormed to third position in a wet-dry qualifying session in Sochi after opting to change for slick tyres ahead of the rest of the pack with the track slowly drying in the third part of qualifying.
Making the crucial change first meant that Russell could get his tyres up to temperature far earlier than many other drivers with conditions improving, with others like Mercedes struggling with the time remaining.
It is just one of a number of impressive performances from the Briton, who is due to partner Lewis Hamilton next season at Mercedes, with his qualifying position in Spa ultimately handing him a maiden podium in a washed-out Belgium Grand Prix.
Verstappen did praise Russell’s performance, but question the performance of the Williams and how much credit the car deserves too.
“Well, first of all, I think Lando [Norris] did a very good job, and also Carlos [Sainz],” Verstappen said speaking on Saturday after qualifying.
“George for sure he’s a very, very good driver, but when you can do these kinds of things, it also shows that the car isn’t that bad as people think.
“He’s scored points and had good qualifyings, and for sure, in Spa, that car is not a Red Bull or a Mercedes, but they also ran more wing and more downforce. So naturally, everything just starts to become a bit closer.
“Nevertheless, he still did an amazing job, but I think people have to understand that that car isn’t as bad as people think it is.”
Russell finished P10 after a dramatic end to the race in Russia, as rain started to fall with Lando Norris leading in the McLaren.
All drivers were on the wrong tyres for the deluge of rain that followed, with Norris the only driver opting to stay out on the slick tyres with his a handful of laps remaining.
The gamble did not pay off, and Norris struggled to keep a handle on the sliding McLaren, which eventually ran so wide, the 21-year-old had to dive into the pits, surrendering a maiden win in Formula One and Norris was left fighting tears.
“I don’t know where to start. I’m unhappy, devastated in a way,” an emotional Norris said speaking to Sky Sports F1.
“We made a call to stay out and we stand by that. It was the wrong one at the end of the day but I made the decision just as much as the team. It was more that they thought I should box and I decided to stay out.
“It was my decision, I thought it was the way to go. I don’t think it changes too much.
“I had the confidence beforehand that I was capable of doing it (leading a race) and I’ve felt capable of doing that for a while. So I don’t think that’s really changed. It’s just a bit of heartbreak.
“I felt like I did everything I could, even when it got a bit tricky at the end. I made a couple of mistakes but still kept Lewis behind and managed to pull away a little bit.
“A bit of luck like the laps I was out before Lewis boxed was perfectly fine for the tyres I was on and I got told the rain was going to stay the same amount.
“Had it stayed the same amount we had the right decision, but it obviously got a lot wetter than we as a team expected.
“When it’s only two laps to go, when there are 20 to go you’re maybe not as aggressive with decisions. We did what we thought was right, which I’m happy with.
“It was wrong at the end of the day but everything until then the guys did an excellent job. I’m happy with everything apart from that one decision which we’ll review and try not to make again.”
Hamilton switched to the intermediate tyres with Mercedes adamant there was more rain coming and ultimately went on to win the race.
The seven-time world champion now leads the way over Verstappen by two points heading to Turkey with seven races remaining of the season.