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Toto Wolff rebukes George Russell over Imola F1 crash with Valtteri Bottas

The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, has dismissed George Russell’s suggestion that his crash with Valtteri Bottas at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix was caused because the Finn feels his future is under threat from the British driver. Wolff issued a stern rebuke to Russell and warned how the incident at Imola could have an impact on the championship ambitions this season for Lewis Hamilton and the team.

Russell is a Mercedes junior driver racing for Williams and is considered highly likely to take a seat at his parent team in the near future. Last season he stood in for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix after the world champion tested positive for coronavirus.

Russell was attempting to pass Bottas on the approach to Tamburello. Russell had to go to the right as Bottas legitimately defended and in doing so put two tyres on to the wet line, causing him to lose control and spear into the side of the Finn at almost 200mph. Both cars smashed into the barriers, causing huge damage. Each driver blamed the other, with a furious Russell confronting Bottas in his cockpit, slapping his helmet, to which Bottas responded by raising his middle finger.

Bottas’s place at Mercedes is considered to be under threat from Russell for next season and the British driver implied afterwards that Bottas would not have defended so vigorously for ninth place had he not been involved. “Perhaps if it was another driver, he wouldn’t have. That’s what went through my mind,” Russell said.

Bottas dismissed the suggestion, saying: “Sorry, I lost my aluminium foil hat somewhere. It’s quite a theory. I’m always going to defend to any driver, I’m not keen to lose any positions. That was normal defending. It could have been a lot more aggressive if needed.”

Wolff’s response was more blunt in reaction to Russell’s suggestion, pronouncing it as “bullshit”. He noted that as a Mercedes driver the Englishman should have been aware of the bigger picture in taking what he believed was an unnecessary risk.

“The whole situation should have never happened,” he said. “Valtteri had a bad first 30 laps, and shouldn’t have been there. But George should have never launched into this manoeuvre, considering that the track was drying up. It meant taking risks, and the other car is a Mercedes in front of him. In any driver’s development, for a young driver, you must never lose this global perspective. So yeah, lots to learn for him I guess.”

Max Verstappen won the race for Red Bull with Hamilton coming in second after a brilliant recovery drive from ninth place. The world champion’s comeback was necessitated when he made an error and went off at Tosa midway through the race. Hamilton recorded the fastest lap and thereby leads Verstappen by just one point in the championship after two meetings, in what is looking increasingly like becoming a tightly fought contest between the two that could go the full distance.

If it does so, how the two teams develop their cars will be key and the implications of the crash at Imola may yet have an impact on Hamilton’s attempt to win an eighth title. This year F1 has imposed a budget cap on teams of $145m (£125m). Rebuilding the car almost from scratch will likely have to come out of funding Mercedes had previously earmarked for car development.

“The whole situation is absolutely not amusing for us, to be honest,” Wolff said. “It’s quite a big shunt. Our car is almost a write-off. In a cost-cap environment that is certainly not what we needed, and probably it’s going to limit upgrades that we’re able to do.

“We are very stretched on the cost cap and what we always feared is a total write-off of a car. This one is not going to be a total write-off but almost, and that is not something that we really wanted.”