Fortunately, George Russell and Valtteri Bottas were unharmed after their 190mph collision at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, but that didn’t stop the egos from acting out afterwards.
The accident, which the stewards say was a racing incident, would not have been such a talking point had it happened between the other two drivers, but with Bottas’ position at Mercedes threatened by Russell from next year, there is a juicy subplot that was impossible to miss on Sunday night.
Russell is this year’s Williams driver, but he has signed a long-term development contract with Mercedes that will almost certainly see him racing for the world title in the future. He also financed his junior career largely at Mercedes’ expense.
Last year, when Lewis Hamilton missed the Sahara Grand Prix with COVID-19, and Russell was the winner according to almost everyone, the two competed in the team’s only race.
In this context, it is easier to understand why the storms broke out next.
Below we look at the accident itself and how the two drivers, Mercedes and the stewards reacted to the incident.
The accident ended the race for both drivers. Hassan Brättik / photo alliance via Getty Images
The collision itself was easy enough to understand.
Russell, who was tenth in his Williams, got the better of the last corner on the final lap and, with the help of his car’s DRS (drag reduction system), was able to close in on Bottas entering the Tamburello chicane at the start of lap 31.
Williams isn’t usually fast enough to compete with Mercedes, but Russell switched to the new slick tires two laps earlier than Bottas, and the extra tire temperature his Pirellis generated at that point helped level the playing field.
Bottas knew Russell was attacking as they started another lap and held his line through the corner towards the Tamburello chicane.
The Mercedes driver stuck to the rules and left the width of the car to the right, but as the track curves to the left, the space for Russell is getting smaller and smaller.
Remarkably, the track was still wet after the race, so Russell had to take to the wet part of the track on slick tires to finish.
With the DRS rear wing open, his car had less downforce than usual and his slick tyres lost grip as he crossed the white line marking the edge of the wet and slippery track.
Losing grip on the right rear wheel, the Williams flips sideways and straight into Bottas’ Mercedes.
Russell’s left front tyre hit the sidewall of Bottas’ car, but was stopped by the Mercedes’ halo, which appeared to be under great power as the left front tyre came off vertically.
From there, two cars spun and hit the left hand guardrail, then came to a stop with another big hit into the guardrail at Tamburello.
Both cars were immediately withdrawn from the race, which was halted to allow the stewards to clean up the mess.
Russell unbuckled his seatbelt, got out of his Williams and headed straight for Bottas’ car.
He leaned towards the Mercedes cockpit and, while blaming Bottas for the collision, asked if the Finn was trying to kill them both.
Bottas said he had not heard what Russell said and instead opted for non-verbal communication by giving the Williams driver the finger.
Russell started and hit the side of Bottas’ helmet with his right hand – something Bottas later said he hadn’t even noticed at the time.
Who is to blame?
George Russell and Valtteri Bottas had a cordial exchange of words after their collision in Imola. Hassan Bratik / photo alliance via Getty Images
Not surprisingly, the two drivers initially blamed each other.
In the paddock, opinions differed on the accident, but those with the power to impose sporting sanctions, the FIA race stewards, decided that no driver was wholly or largely responsible and took no further action.
Car 63 [Russell] approached car 77 [Bottas] to turn a few laps after the restart on the start straight, just as the DRS was activated, the stewards explained. Car 77 maintained its line along the right side of the dry line throughout the incident, and kept at least the full width of the car on the right side at all times.
Car 63 arrived with a considerable speed advantage. He moved to the right. As we approach Turn 1, the gap between the cars and the right side of the track is closing.
None of the cars maneuvered erratically. The track wasn’t particularly wet in Turn 1, but at the closest point on the right side of the track, the 63 car’s tires hit a particularly wet area and the car buckled, meaning it had little downforce behind with DRS open.
The stewards concluded that the accident was a racing incident under the circumstances and took no further action.
The only opinion that counted more than that of the stewards was probably that of Mercedes team principal Toto Wolf.
After all, Wolf controls the future of both pilots, and while one accident probably won’t change that future, it’s never a good idea to be angry at your boss.
On the one hand, Bottas, with a Mercedes, should never have been in a position where he was threatened by Williams.
The only explanation for his low position in the middle of the race is that both Mercedes drivers were struggling to get their tyres warm in the cold conditions, and Bottas was busy getting his tyres up to temperature after his pit stop.
But compare his performance to Hamilton’s and you’ll see that Bottas should have been fighting for position with the Red Bulls, not the Williams.
However, it was Russell himself who avoided the accident by swerve, and it seems that much of Wolf’s frustration got to him.
There is never a situation in life where one person is 100 percent at fault and the other is zero, Wolfe said. This whole situation should not have happened.
Valtteri had a poor first 30 laps and should never have been in that position, but George should never have started that move given the dry track – it meant taking a risk and the other car in front of him was a Mercedes.
Any driver development, any young driver should never lose this global perspective. I think he has a lot to learn.
You have to see that there is a Mercedes, and it is wet, so there is a certain risk of overtaking, and the chances are slim anyway when the track dries out.
I don’t want him to try to prove anything to us, because one thing I can say after knowing Valtteri for five years: He’s not trying to prove anything.
What did the drivers say when the dust settled?
The immediate reaction to the accident has already been reported in detail.
In short, Russell felt that Bottas hit him and caused the collision. Bottas felt he had given Russell enough space and that the Williams driver should have been more careful.
But both drivers fulfilled their secondary media obligations once the times cooled down.
These comments are perhaps more interesting because they gave Russell and Bottas a chance to respond to previous statements, to repent if they felt it necessary, or to do what was initially appreciated.
EDIT: 24 hours after the comment below, Russell apologized on social media Monday night.
What did George Russell say?
George Russell leaves his Williams after a collision with Valtteri Bottas Hasan Bratik / alliance photo via Getty Images.
Talking to Bottas afteraccident.
Well, Valtteri and I saw the stewards, I think it would be classified as a racing incident, and so we both saw it.
Valtteri and I will talk later and clarify the situation.
There’s a lot of emotion in the heat of the moment, but I don’t intend to hold grudges or have a bad relationship with any of the drivers on the grid.
Since I intend to tell him the truth, I’m sure he and I will have a phone conversation this week to put this behind us and move on.
We’re all drivers, we’re all fighting for our position, and right now it’s incredibly frustrating, painful for all of us, and your heart stops for a moment when you crash at over 200mph. You don’t know what’s going to happen.
My anger at him was greater then because I thought he had put us both in danger, and it was an incredibly scary incident at that speed.
Fortunately, we both came out of it without any scars, but of course it could have gone very differently.
On how this might affect his relationship with Wolff and Mercedes
It’s not going to affect my relationship with Mercedes at all, I’ve already spoken to them and there’s an agreement from both sides.
In the end the race went smoothly, we were only three quarters of the way through the straight and we could have easily passed if it hadn’t been a little wet at the time.
The place I came out was not wet, the path went to the left, I was kind of stuck on the right side, and there it was wet.
In the heat of the moment, should I have reacted the way I did, in retrospect? Probably not, but like I said, emotions are very strong. We exchanged a few words and that was it.
Regarding Wolf’s comments that he should have acted differently because he knew he was driving a Mercedes.
I’ve never been able to fight Mercedes. Williams hasn’t existed for five years, so I didn’t even think about how I could fight Mercedes.
Like I said, it wasn’t a reckless move, the move was fully executed, Valtteri defended hard and he was right. We were three quarters of what we called a straight line, it wasn’t like I had fallen back 20 feet and hit his side.
Unfortunately, if the moisture had not been present and the DRB had been closed, the incident would not have occurred. So it was just a series of unfortunate circumstances that could have been avoided.
Was Valtteri wrong? Probably not. Could he have done anything differently? Maybe. Am I wrong? I caused the accident by turning away, but was it wrong of me to overtake? Not at all.
It would be foolish to lift in this position.
Went into the gravel and hit Bottas’ helmet
Punch is a very strong word. It was nothing more than a brush. I doubt he felt it. Was that more what you did? I’m sure a footballer would have reacted very differently, but there was nothing threatening, like throwing your hands in the air.
What did Valtteri Bottas say?
Valtteri Bottas held his breath after stepping out of his crashed Mercedes. Hassan Brattick/alliance photo via Getty Images.
Russell said Bottas acted differently because his position at Mercedes next year could be in jeopardy.
Sorry, I lost my tinfoil hat somewhere.
I will always defend myself against any driver and I don’t want to lose ground. It was a normal defense, and it could have been much more aggressive, so I disagree with all that.
I did my thing, and no matter who I defended myself against, it would always be the same.
He obviously knew exactly what I was going to do, because we were driving lap after lap and I also knew I couldn’t go anywhere with slicks in these conditions, but he went anyway, which was his decision.
I did my job and tried to defend myself, and I’m not going to run away and let him have the dry part of the track. Here’s how.
On Wolfe, who seems to be blaming Russell.
I don’t want to talk about our personal conversations with Toto, but I don’t think that’s my fault.
Most importantly, I focused on why I was in that position.
I had a tough battle in the first third of the race when I was stuck behind Lance [Stroll] in the middle section and when I stopped [for the slicks] I got pressure from the guys behind me who had stopped early and were already using their tyres.
It was, I would say, a big deal.
About his relationship with Russell
I never really worked closely with him, but he was obviously there for a while because he was a reserve driver and did some testing for the team.
I know him a little, but I’ve never had any problems.
On that note, of course I wasn’t happy with the way it ended. But I’m a straightforward guy, so no problem.
But I can’t say I’m friends with him, just like I can’t say I’m really friends with most, if not all, drivers.
No problems on my part, but it wasn’t a perfect day as he may have cost me a lot of points today and that was his fault.
Should DRS be available to Russell?
An obvious factor is that Russell spun because his DRS was open when he drove through the wet section and his downforce was less than that of his car.
DRS is fitted to all cars but can only be used on certain parts of the track during the race, usually on the long straights when the driver is less than a second ahead of the car.
It works by opening a flap in the rear wing that reduces drag, increasing top speed, but also decreasing rear downforce.
The idea is to encourage overtaking by giving the following car a speed advantage on the straight.
The system is deactivated when following races on wet roads due to the instability created at the rear and is also deactivated during the first two laps after the start or during the restart in the middle of the race.
For Sunday’s accident, the DRS had just been reactivated after a wet start, and Russell was allowed to use it to try and overtake Bottas.
However, the question then arose as to whether the road conditions were suitable for the use of DRS.
In hindsight, given the circumstances, given the pattern – that the straight isn’t straight – the DRS probably shouldn’t have been activated, Russell said.
I would not have spun if I had been in exactly the same position with the DRS closed. That is why I pointed out that this could be a solution for the future.
Race Director Michael Masi then defended his decision.
We were obviously watching him closely at the time, Masi said. But to be fair, there were a few successful DRS passes before and after.
No, I don’t think it was allowed to be used too soon. If you look at all the pictures, from our point of view, the track was good and there were no problems.
Will there be consequences?
Although no sporting penalty was imposed following the incident, it was clear that Wolff was unhappy with the collision between the two Mercedes contract drivers.
It looks like Russell will be sued internally, but Wolff has not indicated that there will be any consequences after that.
The future of both drivers will probably depend more on their overall performance throughout the rest of the season than on one unfortunate racing incident on a wet track.
Furthermore, the difference in performance between the two cars makes it unlikely that they will compete again this year, so the chances of a repeat are slim.
Nevertheless, the loss of points could affect Mercedes and Williams’ position in the constructors’ championship at the end of the year.
The team’s position in the championship is directly linked to prize money and Mercedes has an uphill battle with Red Bull, while Williams has had few opportunities to score points in recent seasons.
But there could be another windfall for Mercedes.
It looks like Bottas’ chassis will be scrapped after the accident, which means Mercedes will probably have to make a new one, with all the other broken parts.
In 2019, Mercedes posted repair costs on social media after both cars crashed at the German Grand Prix, saying it varies from crash to crash, but that the average major crash results in a repair bill of £300,000 ($420,000).
That may seem like part of the risk of being a race team, but the imposition of a $145 million spending cap this year means that mishaps between the top teams are now harder to feel.
A company like Mercedes had to cut its development budget to stay within budget, but adding repair costs only increased the budget burden by $145 million.
All teams are budgeting for parts this year – and some designs have been specially modified to reduce production costs – but a few serious accidents could affect the development budget later in the year.
When you have a series of big crashes like this that cause significant damage – and it was bad for us because Lewis’ front wing was also damaged – it certainly exceeds our quota of spending on parts, Mercedes technical director Andrew Shovlin said after the race.
In an ideal world, they would be given life and not be broken, and anything broken is the end of life or something about to get old – but that is absolutely not the case here.
So it’s a cost recovery factor, the money has to come from somewhere, and if it’s a big problem, it can’t be charged to the development budget, so we have to keep that in mind going forward.
When you consider that the accident was avoidable and that Mercedes are in an incredibly close battle with Red Bull this year, it’s no wonder Wolff was so angry after the race.
It’s a pretty big shunt, Wolfe said. Our car is depreciated and low cost, which is definitely not what we needed, and that will probably limit the improvements we can make.
The fact that we lost him in the wet at the end – because there was no contact before, he lost it in the wet – and that both cars crashed as a result is not what I expected.
Williams will also have to cover the cost of repairs, but the team is expected to operate under a budget cap and it is unlikely that this will affect the development schedule. However, it is an additional expense that the team cannot do without.
The F1 season begins with the Portuguese Grand Prix on the 2nd. May continued.