George Russell never thought of Valtteri Bottas rivalry in Imola crash

Michelle Foster
George Russell confronts Valtteri Bottas after their crash. Imola April 2021

Williams driver George Russell confronts Valtteri Bottas after their crash. Imola April 2021

George Russell says he never thought about the rumours he could replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes as he went to overtake the Finn only to crash into him at last year’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Russell was, F1’s rumour mill claimed, about to replace Bottas as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate. The only question was when.

While some pundits called for Mercedes to make a mid-season change even though it was only round two of the season, others felt the start of the new championship in 2022 would be best as in Bottas the team knew they had a driver who would score points even if he was not winning.

That set the backdrop for grand prix at Imola.

Russell qualified his Williams in 12th place with Bottas P7. In wet conditions, heavy rain falling before the race, Russell was racing for a top-10 showing and attempted to pass the Mercedes on the approach to Tamburello.

With his DRS wide open and in tricky conditions, Russell lost control and slammed into Bottas at high speed, both drivers off into the gravel.

While Russell initially accused Bottas of racing him hard, “trying to kill us both”, because he was his rival for the 2022 Mercedes seat, he later retracted that comment.

But it begs the question was Russell thinking about that when he tried to pass the Finn?

“None of that went through my mind,” he told a recent edition of the Beyond The Grid podcast.

“The one thing that went through my mind was I was in a Williams and we hadn’t scored in however many races and years.

“And that one overtake could be the difference between tenth and ninth place in the Constructors’, which would mean millions and millions of pounds of prize money for the team, which can totally transform a team.

“Whenever I had half an opportunity to score points for Williams, I was 120% going to go for it. Everything on the table and that’s what you had to do.

“Now, in hindsight, seeing it was Valtteri, seeing it was Mercedes, taking the conditions into account and the fact he had a far superior car than me and probably would have overtaken me four laps later, it’s a bit of an audacious overtake attempt.”

It was a crash Russell initially blamed Bottas for.

"Big effort" was needed for Williams parts restock after Imola.

“When you have a crash at over 200mph – I think it was 330kph I spun down the straight and crashed into him, carbon fibre flying everywhere, going sideways down the straight, not knowing if someone would crash into me, hitting the wall – you know your heart is pumping,” he said.

“I felt at the time, rightly or wrongly, he could have left me a bit of room, and he probably would have, knowing the closing speed and the conditions, had it been anyone else. Whether that was right or wrong, who knows.

“But those were the thoughts that went through my mind during the time. I think you need moments like that to shape your career, your personality, your future. I think that definitely helped shape mine.”

The crash not only cost both drivers a points-scoring finish but it also meant Williams did not get on the board.

Asked about how team boss Jost Capito had taken it, Russell replied: “He said if that happens again, go for it, he wouldn’t change anything.

“I wouldn’t say do-or-die, but in the position we were in at Williams it was do-or-die because we didn’t have a car that was capable of points so we had to throw absolutely everything on the table.

“So he had no concerns whatsoever, but Toto on the other hand had a slightly different opinion which was totally understandable.”

Russell made amends to Williams later that season, scoring 16 points.