Behind the Headlines – Shakir – Russell’s fairy-tale goes wrong

Behind The Headlines Features

It was turning into a fairy-tale debut for George Russell, the Englishman looked on course to seal his first points with victory in his first race for Mercedes. Russell would have been the first driver to win on debut for a new team since Max Verstappen at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix.

However, in his own words, a “colossal” pit-stop error – the first of two huge tyre blows to Russell’s chances as Sergio Perez won a thriller in Bahrain – was caused by “radio failure”. Russell dominated the race in a way the man he replaces would have, victory and the first points is something unheard of in F1.

Russell won the start and then controlled the race and only lost the lead to his teammate Valtteri Bottas during his pit stops, the Englishman then pitted to correct the error. Then as he chased down Sergio Perez only for him to develop a puncher on his new set of tyres.

As has been the story of 2020, computer algorithm suggested the pit stop for the tyres which got the puncher. Mercedes, I think thought the computer was right, teams normally take the pit stop if they have a gap, but fitting the wrong tyres.

The events in Shakir lead to Perez taking his first win, and the Silverstone teams first victory since they were Jordan at Interlagos in 2003. Remarkably the Mexican was last on the first lap following the incident, to take his first victory in his 190th race start the longest wait for a maiden win.

Moments in that race took me back to last years race in Bahrain when Charles Leclerc was denied victory because of a power unit failure which dropped him back to third. Leclerc dominated that race as well, but as I wrote before ‘F1 is cruel.’

Russell drove up until it all went so horribly wrong like he would win that race, we mustn’t get into the ‘he was only in that position because Mercedes have the best car debate’, I think looking through his junior career he has delivered.

Russell hit the ground running well and did in Bottas’s own words make the Finn look like “a complete c*** and a fool,” during that race, but he finished ahead the results don’t tell the full picture of what happened. Russell beat him overall when you look at how much of the race he managed to lead.

Bottas is the Mercedes driver under pressure, not Hamilton or Russell. This was about the 2022 race seat, although Mercedes won’t admit it, they now have a big problem of three drivers all worthy of the race seat. If Russell’s still in the car in Abu Dhabi and beats Bottas there will be questions.

Hamilton is still highly likely to re-sign for 2021, but in the event, he doesn’t Mercedes find themselves in a situation like 2016 I believe Russell is in pole position now for that seat. Perez himself is remarkably also without a seat for 2021.

For the Mexican, it breaks Mark Webber’s record of the longest wait for a maiden win. Checo as he is known, deserved it as would Russell, the Mexican saved that team last summer from collapse, the Silverstone team also hadn’t won a race since Interlagos 2003.

If Russell had won that race, he would have equalled the record with Verstappen for race win on debut for a new team and the 300th win for a British driver. What impact does his race for Mercedes have for Williams, could he have learnt something which helps Williams to return to the midfield?

Russell, I think was heartbroken, he couldn’t have done any better, it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t win. He needs to think what the benefits from the weekend will be, he has proven his talent we saw in F2 and F3. He deserved that win on merit, Russell may not have points he needed by reedition day after crashing out in the points at Imola.

Russell, I think was the real winner in what he managed to do in Sakhir, I think it has proved a long-running point that the new generation of drivers we talk about, Russell, Lando Norris and Leclerc, are hugely talented and deserving of a seat in top teams.

Wolff said Russell “over-delivered, and over-delivered, and over-delivered throughout the weekend. He over-delivered on Friday, he over-delivered in qualifying in being just a few hundredths away from Valtteri and he over-delivered today [in the race].”

Mercedes need and will learn the lessons, I think they will be stronger in Abu Dhabi, if Russell is still driving for Mercedes, I think it’s highly likely that he can win the race and beat Bottas.

They have won every race in Abu Dhabi since 2014, historically as well following a defeat at the previous race they have always gone onto win the next race, expect last year’s Belgian and Italian Grands Prix.

There were pictures of Wolff, James Allison and James Matthews, a Williams board member, talking post-race don’t read too much into that.

Asked about that discussion, Wolff said, “He is a Williams driver and he is signed up to Williams and our drive line-up is Valtteri and Lewis, so I don’t see this as a realistic situation at that moment of time. But I can understand that it would be an interesting situation to have them both in the team and maybe a bit of wild ride for all of us.”

Russell, however, is the heir-apparent now, he has a long-term contract with Mercedes and when he gets the call up for the full-time race seat. The only question is who will he replace Hamilton or Bottas?

Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.