George Russell says he saw his illegal pit-lane overtake on Hungarian Grand Prix winner Esteban Ocon as a “risk versus reward” moment.
The Williams driver thought the potential benefits far outweighed the negative side, but he quickly learned he would not get away with it.
On the restart, with the Hungaroring quickly drying out under a hot sun, all of the remaining 15 runners except leader Lewis Hamilton dived into the pits at the end of the formation lap to change their intermediate tyres for slicks, the teams having misjudged the condition of the circuit.
Williams were advantaged by having the last garage and as the cars waited for the pit lane light to turn green, Russell spotted a gap to the right of the leading car, Ocon’s Alpine, with room for him to get in front, rather than taking his place in the line.
“What can I do? Can I go to the front of the queue?” the Briton asked over the team radio, but the reply came back: “Negative.”
However, Russell had already moved into the space and with Hamilton inevitably heading into the pits at the end of his first racing lap after the restart, the Williams driver found himself in the lead when the train rejoined the circuit.
— tami. (@Vetteleclerc) August 1, 2021
“It was a very odd situation having everyone queuing up at the end of the pit lane,” said Russell, quoted by Motorsport.com.
“In an ordinary set of circumstances you can overtake cars in the pit lane or you can pull out and race them. So I saw an opportunity and just thought ‘screw it, let’s go for it’ because with risk versus reward, the reward part outweighed the risk.
“I just thought ‘I’m going to get a drive-through penalty here, so I’ll put my foot down and try and pull a gap. It will be a 20-second penalty or whatever, so I’ll just go for it,” said Russell.
“Yeah, it was opportunistic. Sometimes you’ve just got to go for it when the reward is that high.”
Within seconds, Williams told Russell he had broken a rule by overtaking in that scenario and that he had to drop back, otherwise a penalty – which would have seriously threatened the team’s first double points finish since 2018 – was certain.
“I’m really thankful to the FIA for showing a bit of common sense just to say ‘give those positions back’,” added Russell, who was eventually classified eighth, one place behind his team-mate, Nicholas Latifi.
“They could have given me a drive-through. So that was great. I wasn’t too sure what to do. But I saw an opportunity and I went for it.”
Race director Michael Masi had not reported the incident to the stewards, so Williams’ swift action resolved the situation independently.
Masi explained: “George realised his error and the team came across immediately and said ‘we’ve made a mistake, we’re going to drop behind Fernando [Alonso]’. It was actually at the team’s initiation.”