Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff described the pit stop errors that cost George Russell a chance of victory in the Sakhir Grand Prix as “a colossal **** up”, but says it shouldn’t overshadow what the youngster produced.
Russell was standing in for Lewis Hamilton after the world champion tested positive for COVID-19, and missed out on pole position by just 0.026s before taking the lead from Valtteri Bottas at the start of the race. After leading the first half and looking comfortable, Russell was called into the pits during a Safety Car period with 25 of the 87 laps remaining, but a radio issue led to Russell’s car being erroneously fitted with some of Bottas’ allocation, forcing an immediate second pit stop before a puncture limited him to ninth place.
“Overall for us it was just a colossal **** up,” Wolff told Sky Sports. “I’m not allowed to say that, but it was.
“One of the tire crews didn’t hear the call. It must have been a radio failure in the garage. And when the car came in, they did not have the right tires and this is why we exited with the wrong set of tires. Then we obviously had to pit again, but by then the race was not lost; it’s just if one bad thing comes…”
Wolff said his conversation with Russell after the race was a difficult one, but he took the opportunity to acknowledge what a bright future the Williams driver has.
“It was very emotional because you are in your first race in a Mercedes and you should have won it,” he said. “You are driving a monumental race and there is not a lot you can say, but this is not going to be his last attempt to win a race, this is just the beginning of a fairytale that did not work out. But I would say that a new star is born.
“Lewis is the absolute benchmark – that’s what his record says – and nobody is near him, I believe. But today we have seen that there is a new generation coming up that can be really strong, they’re very young – in their early 20s – and the sky’s the limit.”
Wolff admitted he was keen to ensure there wasn’t too much in the way of expectations for Russell over the weekend, but said the 22-year-old displayed what he is capable of, even if the end result was frustrating.
“By saying that we don’t expect anything better than a top-five, I wanted to take pressure off him because the truth is he’s not in a championship fight,” he said.
“Our team has done it already and this is about learning, working in a new environment and having a little bit more pressure. I think the pressure was so enormous on the Friday, so we felt taking it away a little bit would be good. I think we were confirmed (on Sunday) about his potential.”