It’s a battle that should never ever have happened according to Toto Wolff – a Williams vs Mercedes scrap that ended with two stricken cars – leading to more questions than answers for both parties.
Jostling for position, the Williams of George Russell attempted a move for P9 on Valtteri Bottas on lap 32 of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, a move that was considered bold if he would like a future at Mercedes. Rule number one, don’t upset your potential new bosses.
The two collided in a very high-speed shunt, sending both cars spinning, hitting the barriers and leaving behind a trail of debris across the track. It brought out the red flag and the race was halted as we saw Russell climb out of the car and stomp over to Bottas.
Russell admitted he had asked why the Finn was “trying to kill us both” in a furious rant. Bottas denied he caught much of what the 23-year-old said, but heard enough to gesture a middle finger at the Mercedes junior driver.
Ahead of the race, Russell had committed his future to Mercedes saying: “They have their faith in me, I have my faith in them. Time will tell. It’s been clear since day one since 2016 when I signed for Mercedes, to do the job on the track and the opportunities would come.”
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But it’s one thing to say such a thing, and another not to be tempted to capitalise on a situation unfolding in front of you in the heat of a race.
Bottas meanwhile, has to question why he was even battling with Williams for the final points-paying position. Especially after his team-mate showed the might of the car by carving his way from P9 to P2 around a track that is notoriously difficult to overtake on.
The team principal of Mercedes, Wolff, was seen shaking his head in the garage, with both drivers out of the race as the pictures unfolded in front of him.
The fall out became quite public, with Russell, still reeling from the accident, blaming Bottas after the race. Speaking to Sky Sports F1 he said: “We’re going incredibly fast, we know the conditions, in his eyes he’s not really fighting for anything, a P9 for him is nothing – but for us it’s everything.
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“I’m going for the move. The move would’ve been absolutely easy, he had no reason to jolt like that. It’s a gentlemen’s agreement between the drivers, we’ve always said it’s going to cause a massive collision one day. And here we are.”
Bottas meanwhile, who had struggled all weekend during the race and qualifying, put all of the blame on Russell.
He said: “I’ve seen the replay and there was definitely space for two cars all the time, so I don’t know, he was trying to say something but it was completely his fault so quite disappointing.”
A Williams vs Mercedes isn’t really a battle we’ve ever seen – so perhaps the question should be, was it a good performing day for Williams or a bad day for Mercedes? In reality it was both, which is even more telling in what unfolded after.
Wolff was left perplexed as to why the collision even happened and was left frustrated at some of Russell’s comments.
“The whole situation should have never happened,” Wolff said.
“It meant taking risks, and the other car is a Mercedes in front of him. In any driver’s development, for a young driver, you must never lose this global perspective. So yeah, lots to learn for him I guess.”
After the race, Russell stated: “We’re both grown men and we’ll have a conversation and talk about it. Let the heat die down a bit.
“I’m sure he’s upset and frustrated at me as I am with him. I was probably going 30mph quicker than him and about to overtake him, and perhaps if it were another driver he wouldn’t have done that.”
However Wolff said the suggestion was “bulls**t”.
“The whole situation is absolutely not amusing for us, to be honest,” Wolff said.
Russell is a clear talent on the grid, and was agonisingly close to victory during his explosive performance in the W11 at the Sakhir Grand Prix, sitting in for Lewis Hamilton, who was recovering from COVID-19.
Russell, who is usually calm and collective in his words, apologised once the dust had settled on the event, with a fuller understanding of Wolff’s position.
“I apologise to Valtteri, to my team and to anyone who felt let down by my actions,” he wrote. “That’s not who I am and I expect more from myself, as I know others expect more from me.”
Both drivers will be putting their case forward to the boss of Mercedes Wolff at the end of the season, with Bottas, Hamilton and Russell all out of contract.
However, if Hamilton chooses not to retire at the end of this year, there’s only one available seat there between two of them, and situations like this won’t have helped either of their cases for a future seat.
But as Wolff has said before: “You cannot have bulldogs in the cockpit and expect them to behave like puppies.”