The Mercedes team was keenly aware of throwing away a strong chance of a podium in the Qatar Grand Prix after George Russell and Lewis Hamilton collided at the start of Sunday night’s race.
Russell started on the front row alongside pole sitter Max Verstappen, who made very certain he kept the lead heading into the first corner by sweeping across in front of Russell down the starting straight.
However Hamilton was on the faster soft tyres and made his own bid for the front, leaving Russell squeezed in the middle. A collision was unavoidable and they ended up in the gravel, but Russell was able to get back on track.
After pitting for repairs and fresh tyres, Russell dropped to the the back of the field but quickly started ot make up positons during the race. His out-of-sync strategy saw him serve two stints in second place.
In the end, McLaren secured P2 and P3 at the line, with Russell struggling in his final run on soft tyres meaning he had to focus on holding on to fourth ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
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“It is frustrating because it was a big missed opportunity for us,” Russell admitted when interviewed by the media in the paddock after the finish.
“The incident at turn one was absolutely not intentional from either myself or Lewis. Visibility is so difficult in these cars, and especially when you’re racing – there are big blind spots.
“But we’ve got one goal and that’s to finish P2 in the constructors’ championship,” he continued. “We had a lot of discussions this morning about how we were going to work together.”
In the immediate aftermath, both drivers were unhappy with the other when it came to apportioning blame for the first corner close encounter.
But having had time to contemplate the incident and review the video footage, Hamilton acknowledged that while it had been largely a racing incident, it was mostly down to him.
“In the heat of the moment I didn’t really understand what happened,” Hamilton said. “I felt the tap from behind but I don’t think George had anywhere to go. It was a really unfortunate situation and I feel really sorry for the entire team.
“Massive apologies to everyone back at Brackley and Brixworth, and I take full responsibility,” he added. “Everybody is working incredibly hard so it’s massively gutting to have a result like this.”
To add salt to the wound, Hamilton was subsequently reprimanded by the stewards for abandoning his car in the gravel and running back to the pits, crossing a live track in the process. he was fined 50,000 euros, half of which is suspended for the remainder of the season.
“[Hamilton] was very apologetic and realised that the situation could have been very dangerous for him as well as the drivers approaching,” the stewards noted. However neither driver was blamed or penalised for the initial collision.
“There’s very little else to say about the incident at turn one,” said Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin. “Neither driver had the intention of coming together.
“Lewis took full blame for the incident and George acknowledged the role that these sizeable cars can have in such moments. Ultimately both are upset that it’s cost the team a lot of points.”
“I definitely appreciate him apologising,” Russell said. “As I said on the radio, in every incident it involves two people … Lewis and I have huge respect for each other. Nothing was intentional from either side.
“I was gutted because of the result for the team,” he explained. “We’ve had one goal which was to finish P2 in the constructors’ championship and we lost a big opportunity, but I still have full faith that we can achieve it.”
Despite the unfortunate incident at turn 1 in the night time, Mercedes actually extended their lead over Ferrari, their main rivals for second place in the standings.
Mercedes scored a total of 21 points this weekend over the course of the sprint and the Grand Prix, while Ferrari managed only 13 points after Carlos Sainz was unable to take the start of today’s race due to a fuel leak.
“The fight was not with each other, but with Ferrari. Fortunately we still came away with more points than them this weekend,” Russell emphasised. The gap between the two teams is now 28 points with five races remaining.
“We had a really strong race, and we have a few updates coming for the last races of the season,” he added. “We still have positivity because the car was quick.”
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