As Christian Horner declared George Russell “managed to get away” with running off the track at the start of the Spanish GP, Nico Rosberg says it was so well done it was as if he “planned it”.
Lining up 12th after a disappointing qualifying session at the Circuit de Catalunya, Russell found himself on the sixth row alongside Red Bull driver Sergio Perez, who had qualified P11.
Battling Nico Hulkenberg for position at the start, Russell cut the second part of the first chicane to avoid making contact.
Despite cutting the corner, the stewards declared no penalty was necessary, something Red Bull team boss Horner has questioned with the Mercedes driver finishing on the podium while Perez, who kept his RB19 on the track, was P4.
“George managed to get away with running off track, not getting a penalty from that,” Horner told Sky Sports F1. “I think that was the difference at the end of the day.”
Explaining his side of the story, Russell says he didn’t have an option as he “got a bit squeezed.
“I made a decision because I knew there were two cars on the inside of me and I knew if I was going to keep it, I was going to come together with Hulkenberg.”
‘Almost like he planned to go that way…’
Although Horner isn’t impressed with Russell’s antics, former Mercedes driver Rosberg says the Briton did a “really good job” in a move that looked almost choreographed.
“He definitely maximised the opportunities. It was a really aggressive, great start,” said the 2016 World Champion.
“It’s almost like he planned to go that way. As soon as there was a bit of a squeeze, ‘oh I’m going to dive straight there and at least not lose any more time’.
“So he did a really good job. It was perfect.”
His fellow pundit Naomi Schiff is in two minds as to whether Russell had to go off the track as to her it looked like it was a “choice” he made as he had enough room.
“I made a bit of a funny face when looking at it,” said Schiff. “From the first angle it seems like he was squeezed off and in the second angle we saw, it looked like there was enough room for him to go around, but it looks like he made that choice.
“That’s the way he can go, there is a route he can do it. He’s done it all of the right ways.
“I guess maybe from the FIA’s side, or F1, they should think there should be nothing to lose by going with the alternative route. But there’s been no investigation, no criticism of it, so he’s done it all the right way.”
Why Russell didn’t get a penalty…
Former F1 driver turned Sky Sports’ pundit Anthony Davidson explained why he believed the stewards were correct in not penalising Russell.
According to the 44-year-old, Russell was behind Hulkenberg but marginally ahead of the McLaren of Oscar Piastri when he went off which was why he wasn’t penalised for splitting the two when he rejoined.
“It’s close,” he said, “but I do believe he was just ahead of the McLaren before he decided to take avoiding action to go down the left-hand escape route.
“I think it’s because he was just ahead of the McLaren, that’s why he didn’t have to give the place back. It’s tight, but I think as the rules go, he just about got away with it. That’s why he didn’t get a penalty.”
Instead he thinks Horner and Red Bull should look at Perez’s strategy for the reason why he didn’t make it onto the podium.
“George had a great opening lap,” Davidson continued. “In comparison Sergio Perez on the medium tyres [had] a terrible getaway among the sea of soft tyre runners.
“I just wonder in hindsight was that the right thing for Red Bull to have done with Sergio Perez’s strategy?
“We can look back now and say it didn’t work out for him. The soft tyres went much better at the start of the race, the first couple of laps, than we ever thought they would.”