Column | Will Russell lose his Mercedes position?

28-04-2021 08:30 | Updated: 16-06-2021 12:59
Column
Column | Will Russell lose his Mercedes position?

The recent Emilia Romagna Grand Prix hosted some major talking points, the largest one being the high-speed collision between George Russell and Valterri Bottas. This has left many fans wondering whether this would destabilise the long-running relationship between the German team and the young Englishman.

Context

On lap 34 of the Emilia-Romagna (Imola) Grand Prix, Russell was eyeing a move on the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. Spooked by a defence into the braking zone, Russell's tyres dipped into a wetter part of the track, pitching his Williams into the Mercedes, and ending their races in a massive crash, bringing out the red flags.

Immediately afterwards, Russell went over to Bottas’ car and began to reprimand him. To which, Valtteri provided a simple but universally understandable one-fingered reply before Russell tapped the Finnish driver’s helmet. Afterwards, words were exchanged about one another and the incident in their respective post-race interviews. Toto Wolff, managing both these drivers, later weighed in on the matter stating that Russell has “lots to learn” and Valterri “shouldn’t have been there.”


The following day, Russell issued an apology stating “I know I should have handled the whole situation better….I apologise to Valterri, to my team and to anyone who felt let down by my actions.”


History

Mercedes have been a long term investor in Russell, adding the young Briton to their young driver program, where he has been since 2017. Since then, he has claimed the Formula 2 title and shown great form in the Williams Racing team, breaking into Q2 on a more consistent basis and at times challenging for the points. His continuous communication with Wolff, as well as his performances, has kept him at the front of Mercedes mind. This is necessary for the German team, in terms of the future, as other teams begin to transition to younger, fresher faced lineups.

He hasn’t let Mercedes down on many occasions either. His standout appearance for the works team at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix was widely heralded as a success, with good communication between himself and the engineers, in the cockpit and during debriefs, to bring himself up to speed with the W11. This translated to greater comfort in the feeling of the car, providing him with a strong race pace and putting him in contention for the win for much of the Grand Prix.

Successor

This was unmistakably an uncharacteristic demonstration from George. His professional nature has commanded great respect from the paddock and been solidified with his new appointment as the GPDA’s (Grand Prix Drivers Association) director. Therefore, he has the respect of his fellow drivers and must keep that intact going forward. To be entirely fair to him, he is also not the first “young protégé” to act up in the heat of the moment, and therefore a few incidents of such nature, in early years, are permissible. Mercedes will remember the fact that the entire incident was created by George wanting to achieve more for his team, risking moves against high performing cars just to achieve the maximum for his team. While he could have backed off, satisfied with the current haul, he was pushing for more.

Russell is only in his third year, and it is entirely true that he still has much to learn. Finding a balance between risk mitigation and overachieving is incredibly difficult and will come over time, likely when he is involved in larger on track battles. Mercedes has repeatedly touted Russell as the future of the team, and there’s little reason to expect that he won’t be. There has likely been communication between everyone involved, and apologies repeatedly made. Now Russell likely knows that he has to prevent further outbursts, and keep his head down, all to rectify the mistakes that have been made.

Learning and growing is a continuous process, and F1 is certainly no exception, and that will continue into the future. One incident does not define a driver, no matter how bad it is. Till then, Mercedes need to rely on Russell’s previously displayed maturity and strong racing and write this incident off, otherwise, they waste precious time and money training heir apparent to the seat. 

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