Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix shouldn’t be a fight between Waltery Bottas and George Russell… …said Mercedes team manager Toto Wolff before the race.
But whatever the intentions, the conflict soon became reality. After qualifying at 0.026 with Bottas, Russell took the lead in the race and without two pieces of bad luck he would have won his first Grand Prix as a Mercedes driver at the first attempt.
At the same time, he was at the centre of the discussion about the future composition of the Mercedes team and asked questions about Botswana’s position in the team.
One of the results of the race may be misleading for many reasons – Mr. Bottas encouraged people to look at the big picture – but this conversation and these questions are unlikely to go away.
If Lewis Hamilton fails the COVID 19 negative test for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend, Russell will have another chance to show what he can do, and opinions may change or intensify.
But based on what we saw in Bahrain, it’s hard to imagine that Russell won’t be a world champion riding in 2022, and there are already suggestions that he might be a better option than Bottas in 2021.
What made Russell’s performance so good?
Fault! The file name is not specified. George Russell finished ninth on his debut with Mercedes, but managed to win the race. Peter Fox/Getty Pictures
The most talented people in life know how to make a highly qualified job look easy. The less you see the fight, the more likely you are to witness the greatest talent.
Like Russell at the Saheehir Grand Prix.
His 6’2 height may have seemed uncomfortable in a car designed for a man of 5’9 or less, but this was not translated while driving. The only time he slipped a bit was in the last practice session when he experimented with the set-up and driving style, but by the time qualifying came around he was back in the zone.
It’s not easy to go from one F1 to another. In addition to the physical changes, such as the size of the passenger compartment and the position of the steering wheel switches (Russell accidentally pressed the neutral button at one point during qualifying), there is also a way to steer the car.
The Mercedes has more power and better cornering characteristics than the Williams Russell in the last 16 races of this year, and getting the confidence to perform well under the pressure of racing weekends is not a bad performance.
He’s probably the least surprised by his speed in qualifying, because if you look at what he’s done to Williams, Mercedes chief engineer Andrew Shovlin says he knows how to drive fast and how to make the most of it. So it wasn’t a complete shock for me, and that’s what we hoped for and were happy with.
It’s harder to predict how he’s coping with the pressure, but it was really impressive. He really attacked the session and the risk for him was that it was the only way to show what is possible in the best car and that it is so easy to make a mistake and leave a lasting impression, but of course he didn’t think about it for a second.
He worked with confidence, discipline and method in every race. Sometimes the two cars put us under pressure and he stayed calm and it was nice to see. But he’s obviously a very good runner.
In the race Russell’s confidence was evident and he took the lead to finish ahead of Bottas. Theoretically, he should have been at a disadvantage by jumping into a new car with a different starting procedure and Hamilton’s finger-shaped clutch blades, but after a weekend of training on a specially designed machine that goes around the world in Hamilton’s driver’s lounge, he managed to find an almost perfect exit.
With Russell in front of him, Bottas couldn’t answer the first question and instead started to develop his racing strategy for the attack in the second half of the race. Although Bottas thinks that if the race had taken place he would have been in the race for the victory, it seems unlikely and in the end we will never know because the period of the safety car triggered the pit stop that took place on the evening of the Mercedes.
Here you will find details about the disastrous pit stop and what it meant for Russell’s race. Despite the battle for fifth and second place when the race resumed, Russell’s drive for victory was finally stopped by a puncture.
I sympathize with George, Wolf said after the race. We didn’t want to give him too much hope, and he surpassed himself all weekend.
He went overboard Friday, he went overboard in qualifying a few hundred meters ahead of Valtteri, and he went overboard today [in the race].
His runs were great. He came off the starting line with the best reaction time in a car that was not designed for him, was too small and the blades [oars] did not fit in his hands, and he took the lead and drove a brilliant race that he could have won twice.
We’ve learned that George Russell is someone we can count on in the future. It has all the possibilities and all the ingredients the future star needs.
In this respect I’m sad about the result he could have achieved in his first race for the Mercedes, but on the other hand I’m satisfied with his performance.
Was it just a car?
Fault! The file name is not specified. George Russell played 0.026s against Waltery Bottas on his first attempt with the Mercedes. Mario Rienzi – Formula 1/Formula 1 on Getty Images.
Without taking the time to appreciate the above, it’s easy to look at Russell’s performance and assume that anyone could have done it.
If you’re unaware of Russell’s impressive early career or his driving talent, you’ll just see a driver who’s never scored a single point in a Formula 1 team and who’ll be racing from behind bars to the front.
But no one expected W11 to win a race in good hands – it would be ridiculous to do so after the 2020 season – or for Hamilton Williams to win. But it’s wrong to assume that all the trips would have gone as well as Russell.
There is a reason why Mercedes invested in Russell’s early career and there is a reason why he led the team when Hamilton was unavailable. Mercedes has no reason to support the drivers for fun, the team does it to discover the next multiple world champion.
Therefore, Russell’s involvement in Bahrain should be seen as proof that he has what it takes to be considered one of the best in the sport, not as a measure of a person’s talent. The same happened with Max Verstappen when he won his Red Bull debut in 2016 and also with Charles Leclerc when he broke through with Ferrari in Bahrain last year.
The argument that followed in social media is that Russell’s impressive work somehow devalues Hamilton’s performance this year. Again, it’s a general mark.
Yes, Russell may turn out to be a tougher teammate than Bottas if he has a chance to be a Hamilton partner in the future, but Hamilton’s consistency and dominance of the year (and his career so far) make his talent beyond doubt.
The best car on the grid doesn’t rule out Hamilton being the best driver, just like Russell’s lack of results in Williams doesn’t make him a bad driver.
It’s a pity the F1 teams didn’t get too close to the grid, but that’s another story for another day.
Hamilton is a driver with seven world championship titles to his name, while the other players are catching up.
I think Lewis Hamilton has won so many titles because he is the best driver in the best car so far, said Wolf on Sunday. We are very modest about it, because it is not easy to give him the best car, so we have a positive influence if the car works well to share the success, and a negative influence if it doesn’t work. He’s never alone.
It’s never a driver that makes a difference, and never a car that makes a difference, it’s a combination of two. Lewis is still the reference, he is the best driver, he has proven it with his many records, and at this stage we should not get carried away by the phenomenal dynamics of a rookie who has a great future in Formula 1.
Lewis is always the reference.
Mercedes? Bottle label number
Fault! The file name is not specified. In his first race George Russell won as a teammate of Waltery Bottas. GIUSEPPE CACACE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
The biggest question after Sunday’s race is what all this means for future Mercedes drivers.
Next year Russell will start the last season of his three-year contract with Williams, while Bottas will sign a one-year contract with Mercedes. Hamilton should stay in the Mercedes, but he hasn’t signed the contract yet and it’s not known how many years he will be hired.
Even before Russell appeared in Bahrain, he seemed destined to take part in the World Championships in 2022. Mercedes asked earlier this year for its availability in 2021, but the then management of Williams – under Claire Williams – wanted to sell the team and did not want to lose one of its main assets.
Rumor has it that the new owners, Dorilton Capital, flirted with the idea of replacing Russell with Sergio Perez shortly after their buyout, but such stories were easier to follow at Camp Perez than in the team itself. However, since Perez is still on the market in 2021 and 2022, the final solution for Russell’s departure from Williams is not yet known.
Mercedes strategist James Wools, William’s board member James Matthews and Woolff were spotted in the middle of the meadow in Bahrain on Sunday evening. We don’t know what they’ve been talking about, but it’s worth mentioning that Vowles has a young Mercedes driver program, in which Russell always shines a bright light.
When the question of Bottas Russell’s replacement for 2021 was put directly to Mr Wolff at a press conference on Sunday evening, he gave the following answer
He is a Williams driver and he has signed for Williams, and we have Valtteri and Lewis, so I do not see a realistic situation at the moment.
But I can understand that it would be interesting to have them both on the team and maybe drive a little wild for all of us. Maybe it’ll happen in the future.
It’s hard to imagine that Russell won’t be offered a ride in 2022, but again, Wolff doesn’t want to commit at that time.
George has always been a Mercedes driver and now he is a Williams driver and they can be proud of what he has done today.
We need to see now what the future holds. Honestly, I haven’t figured out what this means to us yet.
Of course, Mercedes doesn’t have to commit to anything yet. Much will depend on the length of Hamilton’s next contract, and the team is confident that it will keep Russell on a long-term contract that should prevent an influx of rival teams.
Now it looks like Russell will be called if he doesn’t, but every time he does, Mercedes knows he’s 100% ready.