We’ve had a whole season since George Russell and Valtteri Bottas dramatically crashed at Imola. At the time, rumours surrounded the pair. Was Bottas going to lose his seat at Mercedes to Russell, and they therefore weren’t fans of each other? It certainly didn’t help that the pair swore and flipped each other off during the incident, but now Russell has gone into detail about his thought process at the time.
For some context, Russell was racing for Williams who, at the time, were languishing at the back of the grid, while Bottas and the team at Mercedes was dominating at the front. That domination wasn’t present at Imola with Bottas stuck in P10 and Russell coming up right behind him in P11. It was wet and when Russell went for the overtake he slid onto the grass and crashed into Bottas.
Check out the expletive ridden video of the crash below.
When Russell looked back on the incident on the High Performance Podcast, he said that he didn’t even realise it was Bottas.
“The thing with Williams is I’d been there for two years and scored zero points,” he said. “The team that finishes eight, ninth, tenth in the Championship, they often don’t score more than 10 points in a whole season. So if you ever get that one opportunity to score one or two points, that’s huge for the team.
“Also, financially, if you could finish ninth, eighth in the Constructors’ Championship, you’re talking tens of millions of dollars in prize money extra.
“I’m in a race, I’m in 11th position and when you’re in a car like that, you’ve got to put it all on the line. You won’t score points if you’re conservative, play Mr Consistent. It didn’t even really cross my mind that it was Valtteri in a Mercedes.
“That was an opening to score points for myself, for my team, and I had to go for it. But it was at that moment I was spinning sidesways through the grass at 200 miles an hour.”
According to Russell, this was his first big crash, and he didn’t know what to expect. As he explained, “It was quite a scary moment because I’d never crashed at that speed before, doing 330 kilometres an hour.
“DRS open on a wet patch, the car just spun. I’m going sideways down the track, carbon fibre flying everywhere. I can’t see to my right because you’re kind of locked in the cockpit. I don’t know what I’m going to hit and I’m sort of bracing for impact.”
Russell went on to admit that he didn’t handle the situation very well because he felt there was so much on the line at that time. In this case, tens of millions of dollars.
“Your initial reaction, there’s so much adrenalin. Firstly, I was furious with Valtteri, which was probably not the right thing to do because that was an opportunity I saw that had now just disappeared.
“It wasn’t that I’ve just crashed into Valtteri or a Mercedes, it’s the points we’ve lost and I thought he’d lost for us, and that was really also a lesson for me that you need to look at the overall picture from other people’s view before taking a snap judgement.
“I was very hot-headed and went over and he was also hot-headed. Middle fingers were flying and the F and C words were thrown around. It was all a bit of a not very pleasant situation and that was also really good learning for me – you need to take a moment to think about it before snap judgements.”
Understanding “other people’s view” became very clear to Russell after what was sure to have been an awkward flight home with Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff.
“When it comes to Mercedes, I didn’t really know what to think. I was flying home with Toto that evening, it was always the case – so the one flight I take with him a year, it was that one.
“He was very upset with the situation and pretty angry also, because that was the very first year of this new financial cost cap that had been implemented and the damage that occurred, and that incident for Mercedes, was, I think, one and a half million dollars.
“So that’s one and a half million dollars taken away from the sort of overall budget. So he was obviously very upset and frustrated about that. It was all just a messy, not good situation.”
When asked if he could have lost his chances at a seat at Mercedes, Russell didn’t think so because he had good reasoning for it.
“… my argument was I was in a position that was better than where the Williams should be and he was in a position worse than where a Mercedes should be at the time. So I kind of naively and selfishly use that incident as almost an argument for me.”