Toto Wolff fired a warning to George Russell about his potential Mercedes future following his involvement in a huge crash with Valtteri Bottas at Imola.
Russell is expected to be next in line for a Mercedes race seat, his career being managed by the team’s co-owner Wolff who has sent him out for a three-year ‘loan’ spell at Williams to hone his skills.
But the Briton, who crashed out of the 2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the same venue behind the Safety Car, suffered another day to forget in Italy as he collided with Bottas on lap 32 and sent both cars spinning at high speed into the barriers.
The Williams and Mercedes were badly damaged but neither driver was hurt, only angry with each other – as evidenced by their reactions over the team radio and a trackside confrontation, with Bottas ‘flipping the bird’ at Russell who responded with a swipe at the Finn’s helmet.
Taking out a Mercedes, which he was trying to pass, was not the way for Russell to boost his chances of driving for the current World Champions in 2022 – ironically, when Bottas’ place is more likely to be available unless Sir Lewis Hamilton decides to retire.
Wolff said on Sky F1 that the 23-year-old had unsurprisingly steered clear of him in the immediate aftermath, but warned with tongue in cheek that a much less prestigious series than F1 might be Russell’s direction if he keeps letting himself down – although he stopped short of apportioning direct blame to either driver.
Ride onboard with George Russell as he and Valtteri Bottas collide in a scary high speed accident 💥
— Sky Sports F1 (@SkySportsF1) April 18, 2021
“It was a bad shunt,” said the Austrian. “There wasn’t a lot of friendly exchanges between the two, I guess.
“But we need to look at it again because it takes two to tango. Maybe it’s a 60-40 but I wouldn’t know in which direction.
“I haven’t seen George yet – he didn’t come [to see me]. I keep teasing him, I said if he does a good job he can be in a Mercedes, if not we’re doing the Renault Clio Cup and today we’re more close to the Renault Clio Cup.”
Just before the crash, Hamilton, running second to eventual race winner Max Verstappen, had gone off while lapping Russell and took a while to reverse back onto the track from the gravel having stopped up against the barrier with a damaged front wing.
The red-flag stoppage caused by the Bottas/Russell crash played into Hamilton’s hands as he took the restart in P9 but on the same lap, and worked his way up to a finishing position of second.
Setting the fastest lap of the race means Hamilton leads the World Championship by one point from Verstappen, with their placings reversed at Imola from the season-opener in Bahrain.
“That was not my most happy moment,” said Wolff of lap 32, when the two incidents occurred. “When we thought the race was completely lost, Lewis’ unbelievable driving just saved all of us today again.
“We are still leading the championship with the fastest lap and what actually gives it a silver lining, or a positive connotation today, is that we seem to have a really quick race car. We had that in Bahrain too and today I would say clearly the quickest car and we just need to sort out our qualifying performances.”