Neither Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas or Williams' George Russell were penalised for their race-ending smash at Imola, with the erstwhile teammates colliding to bring out the red flags. The pair collided while fighting over ninth place midway through the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Bottas, struggling for pace, came under threat from the Williams driver, with Russell using DRS to draw alongside as they swept down towards Turn 1. However, the two drivers collided in a bizarre accident that didn't appear to have any significant catalyst. The cars were in close proximity, with Russell appearing to lose control and slamming into the Mercedes before both slammed into the barriers at high speed. It was a terrifying crash, with huge damage to both cars as the race was red-flagged. Russell promptly hopped out of his car and ran to Bottas. Not, as it emerged, to check on the Finn's condition but, rather, to admonish Bottas furiously for the crash. Thankfully, the Mercedes driver was OK and was able to climb out.
The war of words begins
Usually, with F1 crashes, it's pretty clear-cut with a driver being more to blame for a collision than the other. Even if one of the drivers doesn't hold their hands up, the oft-used "I need to look at the replay" is used as a way to weasel out of answering hard questions. There was none of that in this case, with both Bottas and Russell immediately pointing the finger at each other. Bottas, as you might expect from the reserved Finn, showcased his fury by explaining to media, "I'm not happy." Explosive stuff from Bottas. "I always left space for two cars to be there, but he obviously lost it and hit me and that was game over," Bottas explained to Ziggo Sport. Having had Russell come over and shout at him, Bottas said: "I don't know what was he on about because it was clearly his mistake." Russell was far less restrained than the Finn, accusing the Mercedes driver of breaking a gentlemans' agreement regarding how to defend. "As I pulled out, he jolted very, very slightly to the right," Russell told Sky Sports. "There is a gentlemen's agreement that that is not what you do, because it's incredibly dangerous. In completely dry conditions, I'd have been fine. But it just put me on to the wet patch, and I lost it. "I said you're trying to kill us both. It's dumb, you know it's wet, and you know I'm going 340 kilometres [an hour] and now you're trying to kill us both," Russell said.
The incident that brought out red flags in Imola 🚩 #ImolaGP 🇮🇹 #F1 pic.twitter.com/Z18dCPXwOZ — Formula 1 (@F1) April 18, 2021
The stewards have their say
Following a length investigation, the stewards decided neither driver was more to blame than the other for the crash. "[Bottas] maintained his line throughout the incident along the right hand side of the dry line, leaving at least a full car’s width to the right at all times," read the FIA's decision document. "[Russell] approached with a significant speed advantage. He moved to pass on the right. As the cars approached the kink of Turn 1, the gap between them and the right hand side of the track decreased. At no time did either car manoeuvre erratically. "At the point of closest approach to the right hand side of the track, the right hand side tyres of [Russell] hit an especially damp patch and the car snap yawed, bearing in mind that the car had low downforce in the rear with the DRS open."
The right call?
Was the steward's decision to take a neutral stance on such a big crash the right one? Bottas maintained his line, left ample room for the Williams, and was collected by the overtaking car as Russell lost control of the car by himself. While this obviously wasn't intentional from Russell, trying to sweep around the outside of another car on slick tyres on a damp circuit while having the DRS open does suggest more caution was needed. The wording of the steward's decision would suggest that neither driver did anything in particular wrongly, but that Bottas did less wrong than Russell. In terms of deciding who was more to blame for the accident than the other, shouldn't it be the driver that lost control of the car?
Why did Russell get so angry?
George Russell's strikingly angry response to the accident suggests there's more to the accident than meets the eye. Racing against the man who occupies the seat he dearly wants, only to crash, did Russell's battered ego force him to lash out? Now one of the Grand Prix Driver's Association directors, Russell's response to run up to a driver still strapped into his crashed car and angrily admonish him seemed out of character for the usually impeccably mannered Williams driver. A telling statement from Russell was that he felt Bottas wouldn't have defended so hard if it had been another driver, a statement made without any real evidence to back it up considering the Mercedes driver was found not to have changed line. Russell's future at Mercedes isn't likely to have been defined by this one incident, but Toto Wolff's reaction to the crash didn't suggest that he was siding with his young protege. "George should have never launched into this maneuver," Wolff told media, including RacingNews365. " Considering that the track was drying up, it meant taking risks and the other car is a Mercedes in front of you. "In any driver's development, for a young driver, you must never lose this global perspective. So yeah, lots to learn. "You need to see that there is a Mercedes and it's wet. It bears a certain risk to overtake. And the odds are against him anyway, when the track is drying up now. I don't want him to try to prove anything to us." It's a concerning attitude from Wolff, suggesting that a racing driver shouldn't race a slower car in front of him simply because it'll be faster later on. With Russell presumably told he's in line for the seat if he impresses, it's contradictory to then expect that driver to sit back when an opportunity presents itself. "It's not going to harm my relationship with Mercedes at all," Russell explained to media, including RacingNews365. "I've already spoken with them. There's understanding from both sides. From my side, when you're looking forward, you're not really taking the consideration of which car it is at the end of the day. The move was absolutely on. "Should I reacted how I did afterwards in the heat of moment? Probably not, no, but as I said, the emotions are incredibly high. We exchanged words and that was it." When presented with Wolff's comments regarding how he should have been more cautious, Russell said he'd felt he'd done nothing wrong. "I've never been in a position where I'm fighting against Mercedes and Williams has not been fighting against Mercedes in probably five years, so it's not even crossed my mind how I would fight against the Mercedes. As I said, it was not a reckless move. The move was totally on. "Was I in the wrong? I caused the crash by spinning but was I wrong to go for the overtake? Absolutely not."
Just a few races ago, Russell was in a position, however briefly, to race Bottas in what Wolff would regard as a more 'legitimate' way. Sailing past Bottas and on his way to what looked like being a victory in Bahrain, Russell was cruelly denied on that occasion. Now forced back into his Williams and being kept in check through vague promises about how he might, one day, eventually, maybe, get a seat in the Mercedes if and when, possibly, they feel like it, all that tension and frustration from Russell appeared to explode when the car that he felt was to blame was the one car he feels he should be driving. Russell is no rookie any more and has shown consistently strong pace and form, and has proven that he is capable of running at the front. Forced into constant submission by his Mercedes overlords, who expect him to hang back when he sees a W12 on track, is it any wonder Russell's anger got the better of him?