Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says contrite George Russell has lots to learn after crash

F1 George Russell apologizes
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IMOLA, Italy — As well as damaging his car, George Russell could have damaged his F1 Mercedes future Sunday after a high-speed crash with Valtteri Bottas at Imola led to an apology.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff says Russell still has “lots to learn.”

Russell, 23, is in his final season with Williams and has been tipped for a Mercedes seat in 2022, possibly as a replacement for Bottas.

Russell has been part of the Mercedes’ young driver program since 2017 but did his immediate future with the Formula One team no favors after a crash with Bottas on lap 34 of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix. It caused the race to be red-flagged with debris from their cars scattered across the track.

Russell tweeted an apology for the incident Monday.

Both drivers were unable to continue and Wolff said he would be speaking to Russell about the incident.

“The whole situation should have never happened,” Wolff said. “Valtteri had a bad first 30 laps and shouldn’t have been there. But George should have never launched into this maneuver, 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.”

Wolff stressed that Russell should have handled the situation differently.

“You need to see that there is a Mercedes and it is wet, it bears a certain risk to overtake,” Wolff said. “And the odds are against him anyway when the track is drying up.”

Both drivers were furious in the aftermath with Bottas flicking his middle finger at Russell, who responded by swatting the Finnish driver with his hand.

“I couldn’t hear what he was saying,” Bottas said. “Obviously I had my helmet on. I couldn’t hear a thing so that’s that.

“From my side of it, it’s quite straightforward, I was obviously defending my position … he went for it and obviously lost it and hit me and it was game over.”

Russell said a number of factors had played a part, including the slippery conditions, but felt that Bottas had made a late movement toward him, breaking a driver’s code.

“I don’t see it that way at all. I didn’t make any sudden moves … and always left the space,” Bottas said. “From my side it was clean. Of course I’m defending, I’m not going to make any room for him but also when I race, I have respect, so I see it differently than him.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
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Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.