George Russell apologised for his actions after crashing with Valtteri Bottas at Imola because he felt he fell short of the standard for a “role model” in Formula 1.
The Williams furiously remonstrated against Bottas after their high-speed accident in Italy, where Russell tried to pass Bottas on the outside but dipped a wheel onto the wet grass and lost control, spearing left into the Mercedes.
Russell felt Bottas had squeezed him so stormed over to the Finn while he was still in his wrecked Mercedes, asked him “if he was trying to kill us” and lightly slapped his crash helmet as well.
Later on Russell suggested it was an aggressive defensive move from Bottas specifically because he is a rival for the Mercedes drive, but that theory was called “bullshit” by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, who was also critical of Russell’s judgement on-track.
Russell apologised last Monday with a message he shared on social media and has now explained his softened stance ahead of this weekend’s Portugal round, stressing it was in relation to what he did off-track.
“The incident is one thing, it’s part of racing, and these things do happen,” he said on Thursday.
“I think the actions I did afterwards were not my true self, I sort of went against my own instincts to walk away to almost show a bit of emotion, which was probably a very poor judgment call in the heat of the moment, which led on to a few more things later that afternoon.
“That’s why I felt like it was necessary for me to put that out on Monday morning, to apologise for my actions.
“Because I do want to lead by example, I do want to be a role model, and those actions after the incident were not leading by example.”
Asked by The Race about expressing his revised position publicly, and balancing up when to stand his ground and when to back down, Russell said that was “purely focused on my actions afterwards”.
“My emotions have probably never been higher having just crashed at 200 miles an hour,” he said.
“That was a big lesson for me that you need to take a moment to walk away from the situation, look at it from all angles, and just look at it rationally.
“It was important to put that statement out because the way I felt like I reacted afterwards was not my true self.
“And that’s not the way I want to be looked at from fans, from other people within the sport.
“That wasn’t me. The on-track thing is one thing but how you conduct yourself off track is a very different matter and that’s why I thought it was important to apologise for those actions.”
Part of the fallout from the accident was Wolff’s claim that Russell should take greater care racing against Mercedes.
Russell has been supported by Mercedes for several years as a protege and F1 test and reserve driver prior to his F1 graduation with Williams, which was assisted by Mercedes as it supplies Williams’s engines.
He stood in for Lewis Hamilton in last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix and would have won if not for errors on Mercedes’ part, and is considered a serious candidate to land a full-time drive with the team from 2022.
Though Wolff’s comments have been interpreted as a decree that Russell should not be racing the Mercedes drivers, it was specifically to do with risk-taking, and Russell appears to have softened his position that what he did was not risky.
“Toto and I have spoken extensively since the incident but the contents of that will remain private,” he said.
“He’s been very supportive, very constructive, our relationship has not been damaged at all following the incident if anything quite the opposite.
“What’s important is as a racing driver the first rule is you should never crash with your team-mates.
“I would not be in the position I am today without the support of Mercedes, they’ve had my back since day one. As a consequence, Lewis and Valtteri are team-mates of sorts to me, and regardless of the circumstances we should not be coming together on track whether it was my fault, his fault or a racing incident.
“Emotions were high for all of us. And I agree that we should not be coming together. But I don’t go into any overtake aiming to crash or to end my race.
“That was obviously an audacious attempt. I got it perhaps wrong on that occasion because ultimately, it ended my race and the race for our team and missing out on points.”