By Philip Duncan, PA F1 Correspondent
British driver George Russell has issued a public apology to Valtteri Bottas following their over 300km/h collision in Sunday’s Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.
Russell and Bottas crashed as they battled for ninth place in Imola. Russell, who felt Bottas had driven dangerously, called the Finn a “f****** p***k” before confronting him and slapping him on the helmet.
But in a statement posted on social media on Monday evening, the 23-year-old Mercedes junior driver said: “Yesterday wasn’t my proudest day.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 18, 2021
“I knew it would be one of the best opportunities to score points this season and, when these points matter as much as they do to us right now, sometimes you take risks. It didn’t pay off and I have to take responsibility for that.
“Having had time to reflect on what happened afterwards, I know I should have handled the whole situation better. Emotions can run high in the heat of the moment and yesterday mine got the better of me.
“I apologise to Valtteri, my team, and anyone who felt let down by my actions. That’s not who I am and I expect more from myself, as I know others expect from me.
“I have learned some tough lessons this weekend and will come out of this a better driver and a better person for the experience.”
Some thoughts on yesterday: pic.twitter.com/xU07da7DCz
— George Russell (@GeorgeRussell63) April 19, 2021
Russell’s post arrived after Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff branded his theory that Bottas deliberately caused their coming together as “bulls***”.
In the moments after Sunday’s race, Russell suggested that Bottas would have behaved differently to another driver, with both men in contention to partner Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next season.
But an annoyed Wolff said: “That is bulls***. The whole situation is absolutely not amusing for us. I am going to speak to George and make my point.”
Wolff said a star was born when Russell stood in for a Covid-hit Hamilton at last December’s Sakhir Grand Prix.
The Englishman was faster than Bottas throughout the race but was cruelly denied victory following a pit-stop mistake by Mercedes and then a late puncture.
Russell, now in his third season with Williams, believes he is ready to join Hamilton, having been on Mercedes’ books as a junior driver in 2017.
But Wolff, who will have the final say on Russell’s next move, took a dim view of his protégé’s actions in Imola.
He said: “Valtteri had a bad first 30 laps and shouldn’t have been there, but George should never have launched into this manoeuvre.
“It meant taking risks and the other car in front was a Mercedes. For a young driver, you must never lose this global perspective, so there is lots for him to learn.”
Bottas’ Mercedes was severely damaged in the accident and Wolff believes the repair bill could have a knock-on effect in this season’s development race.
A new budget cap means spending is limited to £105 million. In previous campaigns, Mercedes have spent north of £300 million.
Today was incredibly tough. Glad that both George and Valterri were able to walk away ok. Huge congrats to Max, he did an awesome job and to Lando, great to see you and the team up on the podium. pic.twitter.com/uQUEKz2XKc
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) April 18, 2021
Hamilton finished second to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Imola and will head to the next round in Portugal a week on Sunday with a single-point advantage in the championship.
Wolff added: “It was a big shunt, our car is a write-off, and in a cost-cap environment that is certainly not what we needed and it is probably going to limit upgrades for us.”
However, F1 managing director Ross Brawn moved to defend Russell.
Brawn, the former team principal of Mercedes, said: “Imola is quite a narrow track so there’s not much space. When you add wet grass either side from the rain, it becomes very, very tricky.
“I’m sure both drivers will analyse the incident and learn from it but it did look like Valtteri drifted across and left George nowhere to go.”