MANAMA: A “gutted” George Russell proved himself a potential star before being deprived of a win on Sunday (Monday in Manila) by a shocking Mercedes pit-stop blunder and a late puncture in the Sakhir Grand Prix.
The 22-year-old Briton, released by Williams to substitute for coronavirus victim and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, dominated the 87-lap contest for 62 laps before a mix-up in the pits ruined his race.
Despite an extra pit stop, he climbed to second but punctured just as he was closing in on Sergio Perez.
“I’ve had races where I’ve had victories taken away from me, but twice? I couldn’t believe it,” said Russell, who recovered from his late setbacks to finish ninth and clock the fastest lap –- thus claiming his first three points in Formula One.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening. I drove my heart out. I had the race under control, especially in the beginning, and then obviously the safety car came out, which was annoying, but I felt comfortable.
“I made some good overtakes and I was fired up. I was ready to chase Sergio to get the win back and it would have been tight, but we would have done it.”
Russell took the initiative from the start and was five seconds clear of team-mate Valtteri Bottas after their first scheduled pit-stops when, during a second safety car intervention, Mercedes decided to ‘double-stack’ their cars in the pits for new tyres.
Team chief Toto Wolff said a radio failure resulted in a bungled pit-stop for both drivers. Russell stopped first and after he drove off Bottas came in and the team discovered they did not have the right new tyres.
The front tyres from Bottas’ set of mediums were accidentally put on Russell’s car.
Russell was called in again for a second stop to have his correct tyres fitted but it meant he had driven with tyres which did not carry his driver code.
Russell avoids disqualification
Russell faced the possibility of disqualification but stewards opted to spare him and fine Mercedes 20,000 euros ($24,620).
“The responsibility to fit tyres in compliance with the regulations still rests with any team and thus a penalty is considered as being required,” said the stewards.
The pit-stop chaos left Russell fifth at the restart following the second safety car.
He fought back to second before a puncture, ironically likely to have been caused by debris from the Williams car he usually drives, after debutant Jack Aitken lost his front wing in a crash. Russell had to pit again and dropped to 14th.
He climbed to ninth, but he was sorely disappointed at failing to land a remarkable victory.
“If you’d told me at the start of this weekend that I would score some points, I’d have said ‘right, that’s going to be a pretty fantastic weekend’, but if you’d told me I’d be leading the race and then end up… Aargh… I don’t know…
“It really hurts. Honestly, it really bloody hurt when I got out of the car. I spoke to my parents straightaway. I knew they were feeling it. They said you’ve got so much to be proud of.”
He said Wolff, Mercedes strategist James Vowles and engineer Pete ‘Bono’ Bonnington had also been positive.
“We all hugged it out so, hopefully, I’ve given Toto some problems to sort out for the future. I’m happy. I’m proud.”