George Russell didn’t have words after F1 Sakhir GP as he spoke on all right things done and what his parents said as Toto Wolff hailed a new star.
An emotive F1 Sakhir GP for Mercedes stand-in Russell began with a storming start to take the lead, and a quiet management of the race for the following 26 laps – a period during which he only lost the lead once, when he performed an undercut on his teammate Valtteri Bottas and spent four laps behind the Finn.
A Lap 62 pit stop, though, saw his race become complicated when the team fitted a mixed set of tyres to his W11 in a “muddled up” double-stacked pit stop. Russell was forced to pit once more to correct the error, and after it all he wound up in sixth, behind Bottas.
After making his way past Bottas and rivals in P3 and P2, Russell began his pursuit of leader Sergio Perez, of Racing Point. His bid to usurp the Mexican’s lead, though, was derailed by a slow puncture which sent him out of the top ten. It was only by an impressive final stint that the Brit secured his maiden points in F1.
Ironically, the safety car which kicked-off the trouble within Mercedes was because Williams’ Jack Aitken – stand-in for Russell – lost his front wing in the final corner. The subsequent slow puncture happened after he ran over some debris at Turn 10.
Russell was, naturally, gutted to have victory “taken” from his grasps twice. “I can’t put it into words to be honest,” he said to TV media. “Jumping out of the car, it wasn’t a nice feeling. I’ve had races where I’ve had victories taken away from me, but twice? I just couldn’t believe it. I gave it everything I had, I was managing the race at the start, I was confident, comfortable, just managing the gap to Valtteri.
“Then obviously we had the muddled up in the pit stop, that put us on the back foot and then I had to overtake. I think I still could have caught Sergio. We had such a tyre advantage and the car was so quick, we came back through, we did some mega overtakes and then the puncture. So a mixture of emotions.
“I’ve got it out of my system so far. Wise words from my parents, Toto, James, Bono, hugged it out, cried it out a little bit. Gutted, but incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved and happy to have had the opportunity. My mum couldn’t speak, I think my mum was probably in tears, so she put my dad on the phone and he said ‘you’ve got so much to be proud of, we’re very proud of you and that was yours today’, so that was nice.
“And likewise from Toto, he said ‘you drove like a champion’ so… yeah. I don’t know what to say. I think we all feel it to be honest. It was almost a fairytale. But hopefully it puts Toto in a difficult position now moving forward, so if I’ve managed to achieve that, then hopefully that’s one victory going forward,” Russell summed up.
Despite the heartache it caused him, Russell adds that the pit stop blunder remains part of what a driver must accept in F1, which is a team sport. “That’s racing,” he started. “It’s a team sport, we’re all in this together. Sometimes a driver messes it up – I have once or twice this year in the Williams, and sometimes it goes the other way.
“We learn from these things. It was an incredibly late call to pit, as obviously the SC came out seconds before I was in the pit lane and we got the tyres muddled up. Silver lining is, I guess I got my first points in F1,” Russell said, though an FIA investigation into the pit stop error threatened this. It was later found only to be worthy of a fine so he kept his points.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff described a conversation he had with Russell post-race during which he apologised for the lost opportunity. The Austrian also pointed out that this is unlikely to be his sole chance to secure such a result, calling it ‘the beginning of a fairytale’.
“Post-race, I was in his room,” said Wolff. “It was very emotional, because [I said], ‘You’re in your first race in a Mercedes and you should have won it, [you were] driving a monumental race,’ – there’s not a lot you can say. It’s not going to be his last attempt to win a race, it’s just the beginning of a fairytale that didn’t work out, and now it’s a day that a new star is born.”
Here’s George Russell passing Valtteri Bottas: https://www.formula1.com/en/video/2020/12/2020_Sakhir_Grand_Prix__Russell_overtakes_Bottas_with_sensational_move.html
Here’s when George Russell was told he had a puncture: https://www.formula1.com/en/video/2020/12/2020_Sakhir_Grand_Prix__Late_puncture_costs_Russell_podium_place.html
Here’s when George Russell was told of tyre mix-up: https://www.formula1.com/en/video/2020/12/2020_Sakhir_Grand_Prix__Mercedes_tyre_mix-up_costs_Bottas_and_Russell.html
Here’s Sergio Perez saying he could have fended off George Russell
Here’s why Mercedes were fined