George Russell feels that his infamous collision with Valtteri Bottas at the 2021 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix helped to "shape" him. The two drivers came together at high speed while battling for position at Imola in wet conditions, leading to both crashing out of the race. Russell was visibly angry after the event and approached Bottas, with the two exchanging words. Russell also made comments later on suggesting that Bottas had treated him differently to other drivers in the incident, but later took to social media to apologise for his remarks and actions. Looking back on what happened now, Russell told the Beyond The Grid podcast: "It was an emotional day, I guess."
Why the battle mattered so much to Russell
At the time of the incident, speculation was rife that Russell could replace Bottas at Mercedes. However, Russell insists that the rumours were not on his mind during the clash, and that the main reason for his emotional reaction was the importance that scoring points held for Williams, with the Briton having not yet scored his first points for the team at that stage. "None of that [speculation over the Mercedes move] went through my mind," Russell explained. "The one thing that went through my mind was, 'I'm in a Williams, we've not scored a point in however many races and years', and that one overtake can be the difference between 10th and ninth in the Constructors', which would be millions and millions of pounds worth of prize money for the team, which can totally transform a team. "Whenever I had half an opportunity to score points for Williams, I was 120 per cent going to go for it, everything on the table, and that's just what you had to do."
Russell admits overtake attempt was "audacious"
It was only later on that Russell was able to see that his move on Bottas may have been a little too daring. "In hindsight, seeing that it was Valtteri, seeing that it was Mercedes, taking all of the conditions into account – and the fact that he had a far superior car to me and probably would have just overtaken me four laps later – it was a bit of an audacious overtake attempt," he admitted. With the adrenaline that such a high-speed incident can spark, Russell can understand why he reacted in the manner that he did at the time, but also feels that he learned some important lessons from what happened. "Your heart is pumping, and I felt at the time, rightly or wrongly, that he could have left me a bit more room, and he probably would have left me a bit more room knowing the closing speed and the conditions and everything had it been anyone else," the 24-year-old continued. "Now, whether that's right or wrong, who knows, but they were the thoughts that went through my mind during the time. "And I think you need moments like that to sort of shape your career, your personality, your future, and I think that probably definitely helped shape mine."
How Williams boss Capito reacted
One person who fully supported Russell after the collision was Williams boss Jost Capito. "He said if that happened again [to] go for it, and [he] wouldn't change anything," Russell said. "Jost was one who is, [I] wouldn't say do or die, but in the position we were in at Williams, it was kind of do or die, because we didn't have a car that was capable of points, so we had to throw absolutely everything on the table. "So he had no concerns whatsoever, but obviously, Toto [Wolff] on the other hand was of [a] slightly different opinion, which was totally understandable as well." Despite the incident, Russell went on to replace Bottas as Lewis Hamilton's teammate at Mercedes for 2022, while the Finn moved to Alfa Romeo.