George-Russell-Valtteri-Bottas-PA-1200x6

IMOLA GP:
GEORGE RUSSELL LET HIMSELF 

DOWN

The 2021 Imola grand prix gave us a heck of a lot to talk about. Lando Norris’s podium. Lance Stroll and Kimi Raikonnen’s penalties. Lewis Hamilton so nearly putting his car in the wall. Max Verstappen making it one-all between Red Bull and Mercedes. Ferrari being back in the points. Yuki Tsunoda crashing both in qualifying and on raceday. Mazepin spinning yet again. 

 

But all we actually are talking about is that George Russell-Valtteri Bottas crash. It started on lap 32 with Russell going for a DRS-assisted overtake on Bottas who was in ninth place on the approach to Tamburello - and the topic of a Williams genuinely going for an overtake on a Mercedes in 2021 is a whole other issue we should be talking about - but having to move to the right as Bottas defended on the racing line. Two of the Williams’ tyres went onto the wet grass, causing Russell to lose control and spear into the side of Bottas at nearly 200mph. Both cars went into first one, then the opposite barrier, coming to a stop in the gravel with both cars utterly totaled.

Russell was first out of his car, and went straight over to the Mercedes. We were all hoping he was going to check Bottas was ok, but instead he got in the Finn’s face before slapping him around the helmet, to which Bottas responded by raising his middle finger.

IN POST RACE INTERVIEWS, BOTH DRIVERS MADE IT CLEAR WHOSE FAULT THEY THOUGHT IT WAS -
EACH OTHERS'

We were all stuck speculating and trying to watch replays from all angles to analyse who - if anyone - was at fault for the crash. The commentators suggested maybe Bottas moving to the right had caused Russell to jerk the steering wheel, an overreaction that cost him Williams’ first potential points of the season. But some also pointed out that Bottas could have left more room, could have defended the position in a safer way. 

 

In the post-race interviews, both drivers made it clear whose fault they thought it was - each others’. Russell accused Bottas of risking their lives, and claimed he wouldn’t have defended so aggressively against other drivers - a claim many have taken as hinting at the idea that Russell is a threat to Bottas’s seat for next year. He also tried to argue that the points of ninth place mean far more to Russell and Williams than they do to Bottas and Mercedes, something I’m sure Toto Wolff took issue with given that after this weekend Lewis Hamilton is only one point ahead of Max Verstappen in the championship.

Bottas, meanwhile, insisted that he would have defended just the same against any driver, and was just doing his job - and that Russell should have backed off, knowing it was risky to wind up on the wet line. As to the suggestion that he was trying to get rid of the competition for his Mercedes seat last year, he scoffed ‘Sorry, I lost my aluminium foil hat somewhere. It’s quite a theory.’ He also made a point of saying Russell’s reaction was unacceptable. 

 

The stewards opted to draw a line under the shunt and call it a racing incident, with neither driver being penalised. Toto Wolff, when asked about it, declared it a 50-50 case of fault, but also made it clear that he was not amused by the situation, and that Russell was going to have to learn a lot from the whole weekend. 

 

So really, if no one is at fault and neither driver got any penalty points, why are we still talking about it?

THIS WAS NO SELF-FLAGELLATING ISOLATION, THIS WAS AN ANGRY LASHING OUT AT A FELLOW DRIVER - A DRIVER WHO HAD JUST TAKEN AN ALMIGHTY KNOCK AND WASN'T YET OUT OF THE CAR

Because of that reaction from George Russell. We’re starting to learn that he has a temper on him when things go wrong - a year ago at the 2020 Imola grand prix we saw him refusing to leave the crash area with the stewards after he put his car in the wall trying to keep his tyres warm behind the safety car, and at Sakhir we saw him appear to be sulking after his big chance with Mercedes fell through. It was easy to put those incidents down to him being angry at himself - frustrated, wanting to think and stay away from the crowds in the pit lane, and taking time to centre himself. But that was clearly not the case this weekend. This was no self-flagellating isolation, this was an angry lashing out at a fellow driver - a driver who had just taken an almighty knock and wasn’t yet out of the car. 

 

Bottas also could have probably handled things differently - I did enjoy the commentators having to apologise to viewers for his flipping the bird at Russell - but he was understandably shaken, also angry at having his race ruined, and on the defensive. 

 

Back at the paddock, Russell’s adamant refusal to acknowledge that perhaps Bottas had done nothing wrong did his reputation no favours. In fact, David Coulthard speculated that if Russell didn’t calm down and acknowledge his part in the incident, it could negatively affect his future career. 

 

Whether Russell came to his senses or was encouraged to by the Williams PR team, he has now acknowledged that on seeing the crash from previously unseen camera angles it is clear that things didn’t play out the way he felt they had from the cockpit, and that a lot of his initial reaction was down to the shock and adrenaline of a 200mph crash. He put out a statement apologising to Bottas, admitting that it ‘wasn’t [his] proudest day’, and that he should have handled the whole situation better. The focus is now on the next race in Portugal. 

GIVEN HE'S ALREADY BEEN ACCUSED BY SOME F1 FANS OF FAVOURITISM AND BEING OVER-RATED HE HASN'T HELPED HIS REPUTATION AT ALL

I will say here that I like George Russell. I think he usually comes across as a nice guy, and I think he has considerable talent. I do want to see him in a Mercedes one day. But honestly, his behaviour this weekend did sour me on him a bit. His attitude stank, and given he’s already being accused by some F1 fans of favouritism and being over-rated, he hasn’t helped his reputation at all. This has to be a real low point for him, and I hope he’ll see that, give himself a stern talking to - or listen to the stern talking to he inevitably gets from Toto - and be better going forward. 

 

He is still young, he is still learning, and he has already been given incredible opportunities while still struggling for real success. I can see why he behaved the way he did, but it cannot happen again. The only way from here is up, George. Make it happen.