George Russell 'gutted' as Mercedes debut Sakhir GP win is 'taken away'
George Russell was leading Sakhir GP before Mercedes pit-stop error, and made his way back to second behind Sergio Perez but suffered late puncture; Russell says he's 'absolutely gutted' while Merc explain mix-up
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 07/12/20 6:49am
George Russell admitted he was "absolutely gutted" after an incredible - yet heartbreaking - Mercedes debut at the Sakhir GP finished without a deserved maiden Formula 1 win, one that was "taken away twice" from Lewis Hamilton's stand-in in dramatic circumstances.
Mercedes, meanwhile, praised the British youngster and have revealed that the "colossal" pit-stop error - the first of two huge tyre blows to Russell's chances as Sergio Perez won a thriller in Bahrain - was caused by "radio failure".
It was a chaotic evening on Sunday, one that appeared destined to end in a remarkable win for Russell - drafted in as Hamilton's temporary replacement from Williams earlier this week - as he dominated the opening stages after overtaking experienced team-mate Valtteri Bottas on the first lap.
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A Safety Car led to Mercedes, with such a healthy lead, pitting both their drivers, but Russell was sent away with a mixed set of tyres - illegal in F1 - as Bottas' were incorrectly fitted to his car, leading to another stop on the next lap.
That dropped Russell down to fifth after the restart, but he still battled back to second and was just two seconds off Perez, gaining rapidly, before a puncture forced him into another stop. He eventually finished ninth.
"Guys. I don't know what to say," Russell said on team radio. "That was taken away from us twice. Honestly. It's been a pleasure and I've loved it and honestly, I'm gutted. I'm absolutely gutted."
The 22-year-old then added to Sky F1 in the media pen: "I can't really put it into words to be honest. Jumping out of the car... it wasn't a nice feeling.
"I've had races where I've had victories taken away from me, but twice? I just couldn't believe it.
"I gave it everything I had. I was managing the race at the start, I felt confident, comfortable, managing the gap to Valtteri. Then obviously we had the muddle up in the pit-stop, that put us on the back foot, I had to overtake.
"I think we still could have caught Sergio, we had such a tyre advantage, the car was so quick. Gutted."
Russell, who may be back in the Williams at next weekend's Abu Dhabi GP if Hamilton tests negative for Covid-19, insisted he was still "incredibly proud" and refused to blame Mercedes for his woes.
"It's a team sport," he said. "We're all in it together. Sometimes a driver messes up, I have once or twice this year, sometimes it goes the other way.
"We learn from these things. It was an incredibly late call to pit, the Safety Car came out seconds before I came in. Obviously we got the tyres muddled up. Silver lining, I guess I got my first points in F1!"
Mercedes explain tyre mix-up and insist: 'A star is born'
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff sympathised with Russell immediately after the race on team radio, telling him: "I'm sorry for that. That was a brilliant, brilliant drive."
And he also spoke to Sky F1 about the pit-stop error which saw Russell given Bottas' tyres, which also led to Bottas not having his tyres changed at all despite a double stack.
"Overall for us, it was just a colossal **** up," he said. "Simply, one of the tyre crews didn't hear the call - we had a radio failure in the garage.
"When the car came in, they didn't know we had changed the tyres for the wrong tyres, and this is why we exited with the wrong set of tyres."
Wolff insisted bringing both drivers in at the right time was the "right call" and added on the radio issue: "Technical failures happen, that wasn't any human error.
"We need to find out, we've checked it now, we've seen it's not functioning but we don't know why. These things happen. We need to learn from it."
Wolff admitted it was "very emotional" speaking to Russell after the race "because if you are in your first race in a Mercedes and you should have won it, you are driving a monumental race, there's not a lot to say."
But he continued: "But it's not going to be his last attempt to win a race, it's just the beginning of a fairy-tale that didn't work out today. I would say a new star is born."