Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was kind of a mess, but in a fun way. A wet race with gradually drying conditions meant lots of slippery battles and tire strategy. That all meant the race was enjoyable to watch, among the more enjoyable races of recent memory, for certain. One particular coming-together saw George Russell’s Williams attempting a pass on Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes in a battle over 9th position, and it ended with both cars slamming into the wall after 180 mile per hour contact. The stewards chose not to take further action for either driver, but in the moment both drivers chose to blame each other.
I’m not going to adjudicate the on-track contretemps, because I agree with the stewards. Neither driver was at fault, it was simply a battle for position on a damp track. I don’t think Bottas pushed Russell to the right, and I don’t think Russell was wrong to go for the position. Sometimes, in racing, you just have to chalk it up to shit happens.
Now, before I go on, I will take a bit of a digression to say that the number two driver in a Mercedes should never see themselves getting passed by a Williams. Bottas was within the margin during practice leading up to the race, but he looked lost in qualifying, starting the race no better than eighth, and he didn’t seem to have any idea how to find speed on Sunday during the Grand Prix, either. For a driver who says he is new and improved for the 2021 season, Bottas hasn’t really delivered thus far.
Okay, so following the crash is where things got really interesting. Both drivers went over the radio with expletive-laden tua culpas. Russell then left his car, walked over to Bottas still sat in his Mercedes, and gave him a quick bonk on the helmet for the perceived injustice. Bottas, meanwhile, gave the Williams driver a one-finger salute. It’s nice to see an actual moment of pure personality from both drivers.
Following the race, Russell had some strong words for Bottas, claiming he wouldn’t have crashed out any other driver. The implication of this is that he believes he is a shoe-in for Valtteri’s seat, potentially even for next season, and that Bottas intentionally fought him harder to keep his place in the team. I don’t exactly think he’s wrong about that.
Russell: “Obviously I was very pissed off and frustrated with him at the time,” Russell said. “I’m fighting for P9, a P9 for him is absolutely nothing. Almost meaningless. He did a move that you would do if you were fighting for victory on the last lap of the race.
“It begs the question why he would do that for P9. Perhaps if it was another driver, he wouldn’t have. So that’s what went through my mind. Like I said, he’s not fully to blame, I don’t think I’m fully to blame. But it could have been avoided. I think this is a good example for the stewards, very minor movements like this will create crashes, and here we are.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff later called that assertion “bullshit” and made some colorful comments to the effect that Russell didn’t belong in F1 with moves like that. Russell is a member of the Mercedes junior team, and has obviously shown himself quite capable at the wheel of an F1 car, despite the odd mistake.
Once it was clear that he’d earned the ire of his potential future boss, and the smoke had settled a bit, Russell issued this notes app apology on social media Monday morning.
I know I’m not an F1 driver, but fuck that, man! It’s clear that Mercedes and Wolff have pulled some strings here that neutered this young man’s conviction. It’s not hard to see that Wolff was clearly on Russell’s mind when this mealy mouthed apology was posted.
Is this experience going to make the Williams driver think twice about so much as attempting a pass on a Mercedes in the future? I would much rather see him go on the offense against an ostensibly better driver in a definitely better car than equivocate and err on the side of caution. I’m not saying he needs to be Senna, but that guy wasn’t known for taking the easy way out. And he was certainly a firebrand when shit didn’t go his way.
I’m sick of sports personalities being robots. I want to see more bonks on the head and middle fingers. Come on, guys, you just wrote off multi-million dollar race cars in an internationally televised sport, give us a little emotion! More Sunday George Russells, and fewer Monday George Russells.