Russell keeps points as Merc fined for tyre error

Mark Scott
George Russell Mercedes

George Russell knew debut Mercedes weekend was turning out "too good to be true".

George Russell has kept hold of his first Formula 1 points as Mercedes were fined 20,000 Euros for their tyre mix-up at the Sakhir Grand Prix.

Russell was mightily impressive throughout his debut weekend in the W11 as he stepped in for Lewis Hamilton, ruled out after testing positive for Covid-19, and looked on course to win in what was a dominant display up against team-mate Valtteri Bottas.

But that dream quickly became a nightmare as Mercedes completely botched a double stack pit stop during the late Safety Car period due to a radio failure within the Silver Arrows garage.

It meant part of the tyre crew were unaware the two cars were pitting and in Russell’s case it meant he re-emerged on track with some of Bottas’ tyres on his car and he was forced to pit again.

Russell then battled his way back up to P2 and tried to hunt down Sergio Perez for the race win, but a puncture required yet another pit stop and a recovery drive from the back.

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The British driver wrestled his way to P9 when the chequered flag waved, at least salvaging his first Formula 1 points, but a nervy wait followed as the FIA assessed what the punishment should be for being in breach of the regulations.

Nikolas Tombazis, the FIA technical delegate for the Sakhir Grand Prix, triggered the process by referring the matter to the stewards.

‘When car number 63 [Russell] pitted for a tyre change at 21:16hrs, the team fitted on the front axle tyres allocated to car number 77 [Bottas].

‘Car number 63 left the pit lane and returned after one lap in order to fit a correctly allocated set of tyres. As this is not in compliance with Articles 24.2 a) and 24.3 e), I am referring this matter to the stewards for their consideration’.

That then resulted in the following verdict:

‘The Stewards heard from the Mr Ron Meadows (team representative) and Mr Nikolas Tombazis (FIA Formula One Technical Delegate).

‘As described in the latter’s report (document 34) Car 63 was fitted with front tyres that were allocated to Car 77.

‘This was caused by a radio communications technical issue wherein the pit wall’s communication to the pit crew that Car 63 was entering the pits prior to (and not after) Car 77, failed to be received by the crew of Car 63 because at the same time, the driver of Car 63 transmitted over the top of that message. This resulted in the front tyres of Car 77 accidentally going onto Car 63. (The cars were “double stacked” at the time.)

‘This is clearly a breach of the regulations and would normally involve a sporting penalty up to Disqualification. However, in this case there are mitigating circumstances, additional to the radio issue referred to above.

‘Firstly, the team rectified the problem within 1 lap. This involved Car 63 making another pit stop, thus dropping it further down the classification.

‘Secondly, Car 77 made a pit stop to change tyres only to find that the front tyres to be fitted to it, were on Car 63, so was sent out after considerable delay, with the tyres that were on Car 77 prior to the pit stop. This also impacted the final classification of Car 77.

‘Thirdly, although this type of infringement is not catered for under the “3 lap tolerance” referred to in the second paragraph of Article 24.4 b) (which currently only refers to the use of tyres of differing specifications), we consider it to be similar in nature.

‘However, the responsibility to fit tyres in compliance with the regulations, still rests with any team and thus a penalty is considered as being required.

‘It is recommended that the FIA consider amending Article 24.4 b) to accommodate this type of breach when it is rectified without delay.

‘It is noted that this type of breach has not previously been experienced in Formula One.’

Russell bagged two points for finishing P9 and earned an extra point for finishing inside the top 10 with the fastest lap.

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