George Russell, Williams, Hockenheimring, 2019

“I think it’s slicks, mate”: How Russell missed his first chance for points

2019 German Grand Prix

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George Russell told his Williams team three times to risk an early switch to slick tyres at the end of the German Grand Prix – the very strategy which helped Lance Stroll take fourth place for Racing Point.

But Williams opted not to gamble on slicks. Stroll, who had been behind Russell before his final switch to slicks, briefly took the lead of the race and ended up fourth.

After the race a disappointed Russell admitted: “We should have taken slicks under the penultimate safety car, but I think we took the conservative approach when we should have maybe rolled the dice.

“There were 13 or 14 other drivers on the grid who didn’t do that so it’s not exactly that we made the wrong call, but we had the opportunity to make the right call.”

Russell had advised his team several laps earlier that the track had dried sufficiently for slick tyres. However his engineer told him to “stay out” as he approached the pit lane entrance. Behind him, Stroll headed for the pits. Russell noticed this immediately and urged his team to keep an eye on Stroll’s progress.

More drivers pitted for slicks the next time around, but Williams continued to leave Russell out. After another lap he was finally called in, having just exited turn one. He was passed by Stroll at the next corner.

An error by Russell on lap 51 cost him his final chance at a point. He ran wide at turn two, which allowed Robert Kubica to overtake him. Kubica went on to finish 12th, and was promoted to 10th and the final point when the Alfa Romeo drivers were penalised.

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George Russell’s radio messages from the penultimate Safety Car period

Russell:Will quali [soft tyre] make it to the end?
To Russell:Close the gap to the Safety Car.
To Russell:I think these inters, just bring them in as gently as you can, just look after the front-left and the rear temps…
Russell:Mate, give me clear instructions. You were telling me to push.
To Russell:Yep OK. So look after the front-left, manage through turn 12 in terms of wear.
Russell:What’s the forecast saying?
To Russell:Same conditions until five laps remaining. There’s currently 22 laps remaining. So potentially 15-17 laps on this.
Russell:(At Motodrom hairpin)
I think it’s slicks, mate. Unless you tell me it’s going to rain I think we can throw the quali on.
To Russell:Conditions will stay like this we think for the next 15 laps. Stay out, stay out.
To Russell:OK let’s take the brake balance forward by two percent.
Russell:(At Mercedes arena)
Safety Car in or out?
To Russell:We’ve got no updates, think it’s staying out.
Russell:Think about dry tyre.
To Russell:Copy that. All cars currently on inters. Top half on 15, 16-lap-old inters. The two Haas ahead of you on new tyres, same as Stroll behind.
To Russell:(At Motodrom hairpin)
Russell:What’s the weather going to do? If it’s going to stay like this I think we can risk it.
To Russell:Yeah I think it’s currently due to stay like this.
Russell:So what do you want to do?
To Russell:Stay out, stay out.
Russell:(He passes the pit lane entrance, Stroll, behind him, pits)
Watch Stroll’s onboard on his out-lap, see what he’s doing.
To Russell:Yep Stroll’s pitted, I’ll tell you what he’s fitted.
To Russell:OK so Safety Car is in this lap. Stroll fitted the quali tyre. He is six seconds behind Robert currently. We think the conditions in sector three are not good for the quali tyre.
Russell:Yeah, copy. How was our pace compared to the guys ahead?
To Russell:Pace is good.
Russell:What is ‘good’? I want a number.
To Russell:We think Kvyat will be the slowest car. Two Haas and the Ferrari will pull to him, Kvyat will be slower.
Russell:(Race restarts, Kvyat and Magnussen pit)
I think I picked up some damage, last corner. Saw something flying off the front-left.
To Russell:Copy we’re taking a look, looks OK so far.
To Russell:(He stays out for another lap. Exit turn one)
George we’re boxing this lap, box box, quali tyre.
(Stroll passes him)

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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32 comments on ““I think it’s slicks, mate”: How Russell missed his first chance for points”

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams were factoring in the risk of him binning it and the damage / parts equation that they presumably can’t cope with right now. If he’d written off the car one week before Hungary, its presumably worse for Williams than it is for the others, unless of course they’re back on track now.

    1. It could be many things. Even back in the days when bottas was driving for them when they had a good car they seemed to have this fear of doing anything that could hurt them. They sort of accept their fate as backmarker and instead of holding on to what they have they just give it up hoping they lose less time that way. This was obvious all the way back in 2014 hockenheim where williams were telling bottas to let hamilton go by without losing time in the race. Bottas was not having it and and because he had a straight line speed advantage and tire advantage over hamilton he could keep him behind. But had it been williams decision they would have let hamilton go. Always too careful to lose what little they have instead of taking risks with possibly huge rewards. Never racing trying to take what they want instead of being happy to slot in where they think they deserve to be.

      I have my doubts that this is not an issue with technical knowledge or with the tactical team. I’d imagine it could be an issue where the decisions are made by committee. In other teams the tactical teams make the decisions and the team leaders et all just listen and make sure the decisions make sense and issues are solved. At williams the team leaders are probably part of every decision and they discuss everything before doing anything. Not only is this a lot slower but having to explain every decision to higher ups before they make the decision will lead to micromanagement instead of the right decisions.

      1. That lack of ambition @socksolid mentioned re Hockenheim 2014 was also present at Silverstone 2015 when the team weren’t decisive enough in telling Massa to let Bottas pass when he was clearly faster in the early stages of the race.

      2. Duncan Snowden
        30th July 2019, 16:47

        Even in the ’90s, Williams seemed to be the last to figure out what became standard strategy in the refuelling era, and often appeared to be blindsided by Benetton and later Ferrari (both under “the owlish Ross Brawn”, as Murray used to call him, of course) as a result. Of course, we fans had less information back then; it could simply have been that they knew what to do and just weren’t very good at it. Maybe, as you say, it’s a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

        But the point is that race strategy’s always been their weak point. There’s no doubt that in the “Rothmans era”, they won races, and even championships, despite some questionable strategy calls simply because the car was that good. Nothing – except the performance of the car – seems to have changed.

    2. I think Russell’s right in this case though, when else would Williams have a chance for a points finish this year? What have they got to lose? Worth the risk IMO.

    3. I think you’re correct, and I’m disappointed by their decision. To stand any chance of construction championship money to ensure they’re not in the same predicament next year, they have to take gambles on days like Sunday. Frank Williams is a racer, the Williams team, not so much.

      1. They get constructors money for 10th place in the championship regardless, don’t they?

  2. George looks to have a good racing brain , he will go far

    1. @greg-c – good observation. His radio transcript shows he’s thinking hard in there, while driving in treacherous conditions, in a car that is likely a poor handler.

    2. Then there’s the video floating around twitter of Russell understanding more about safety car regulations, and when he can overtake other cars if they’re going unnecessarily slowly, than his engineer. He is definitely a very intelligent driver (with speed too). Hopefully Mercedes can find a seat in a more competitive car for next year so he can actually show his talent.

      1. @hugh11 – good one.

        For the benefit of others, here’s the video: https://www.reddit.com/r/formula1/comments/cj91t5/russell_needs_to_disobey_williams_engineer_and/

        I started to get annoyed at the engineer when he parroted “you need to give the place back” for the 5th (or was it 50th?) time, but Russell repeatedly and patiently kept saying why he needn’t have to.

        And we’re not talking about some esoteric aspect of the regulations, either. Deltas behind the VSC/SC should be the bread and butter of a race engineer. Williams and the race engineer seem to be made for each other. Russell deserves better.

        1. How do we know it was legal for RUS to pass under safety car? I thought that for safety reasons overtaking is strictly prohibited under SC. Maybe Keith can shed some light on this situation.

          1. Well, Russell didn’t get penalized, so it was obvious (in hindsight) he was right.

            Also, the SC was waiting to pick up the race leader at that time in the clip, so the rest of the field is meant to lap the SC and then form up behind the race leader.

            Also, if you listen closely, Russell was respecting the delta provided by race control, and it was Stroll who was driving excessively slow (likely due to the tyres he had on).

          2. RUS got away with no penalty only because Stroll went to pitstop while they were still arguing

  3. I’d be exasperated at the way they kept answering him. No clear instructions, so much meaningless discussion, mad worst of all, the wrong result.

    Not sure how he didn’t lose it and began shouting.

  4. What are williams waiting for? they will not get many chances like this. What have they got to lose?

    Happy for Kubica. Used his experience and made no mistakes. Probably the only point Williams will have this year with their “conservative” strategies. If you’re fighting in the top 10 or for the win, its a much more difficult decision. But when your car is several seconds off the pace running last every single race, and you finally get a wet race where you can take a gamble? Common :-)

    1. Absolutely. I mean they already had last place covered so why not take a risk with one of them!

    2. I completely agree, I didn’t scroll to read the other comments before I posted. Seriously, this was maybe one of their few chances to earn points… Forward thinking by Russell.

    3. Williams used to mess up strategy when Massa and Bottas were driving for podiums so it just shows nothing has changed.

  5. A damaging quality of a once successful, now struggling team such a Williams is to continue to strategise like you’re a frontrunner whilst you’re a backmarker. Racing more conservatively is fine when you’re consistently battling for points (and a DNF due to a risky call might cost you a position in the constructor’s championship), but when you have 0 points––make that 1 due to Alfa’s double penalty––and your cars are finishing last and second last practically every race, you need to take chances in rare scenarios such as those which arose in Germany. Minnows such as Toro Rosso (Kvyat, 3rd) and Racing Point (Stroll, 4th) understand this, Williams presently do not.

    1. @newfangled – very nice point, there. I think a good contrast will be RBR. In this engine era, they know they’re not contending for championships, so they’re happy to take risky/aggressive strategies hoping for a payoff via a race win. Yes, there have been times it has fizzed out, and a few instances it has paid off handsomely (e.g. China last year).

      As you rightly say, Williams should be approaching points the way RBR targets victories.

    2. @newfangled
      Exactly. And it’s not like it’s a case of not having the ability, race strategy should be second nature to everyone on the pitwall. It’s more a case of toning it down when you have the fastest car to minimise variables rather than the other way around.

      Racing point (and as it’s previous guises) are the masters of this, Red Bull are just generally probably the best team on the grid when it comes to strategy. You could see it when Vettel was winning championships and it’s just as evident when they’re winning races with the third best car.

  6. I would be gutted if I was Russell. In changeable conditions like this I always feel that the driver’s view should hold more weight, given the fact they are actually out there and can feel the grip available. Russell thought it was dry enough and the track would only get drier, a fact the team knew having just told him that it was going to stay dry for about 15 laps. I would understand their decision if another shower was immanent, but in these circumstances surely it was worth a punt given (a) that they would likely finish last in a “normal” race and (b) how mad the race had been until that point.

  7. Wow. I feel bad for Russell. I understand what others are saying about Williams possibly not wanting to junk a car, but at least trust your one good driver to not make a mistake.

    Nascar especially and Indycar take gambles like this all the time. Sometimes you get lucky like Stroll did. If it doesn’t work out, then what did you lose.

    1. trust your one good driver to not make a mistake

      What do you mean by “one good driver”?
      Russel still had the opportunity to earn a point but blew it by overshooting a corner so in the end he did make a mistake. How ironic.

      1. Just watched the on board camera. You are correct. He did go wide and lost the position. Unlike a bunch of others, he didn’t wreck. Even though he didn’t overtake (team orders?), Russell was setting better lap times.

        Losica got his bone and now can resume his duties next year in the simulator. Bring Bottas back and let Ocon slide into the Mercedes.

  8. Williams tried to keep away from any risk or incidents to get some point that will probably be the first and the last time this year. It was a crazy race and anything could be happened and it is understandable that they acted so censervative. I will not comment it.
    What’s good is the Russel’s attitude, pure racing instinct which we saw from some others too at the beginning of the race during Safety Car period. Good days on the way.

  9. You are almost 2 seconds slower than the next team
    You have yet to score any points.
    All your car development still leaves you stuck at the same spot.
    You are guaranteed last position any which way.
    The only thing left to do is gamble and take risks in such changeable weather, as the only risk is finishing where you would have finished anyway

  10. The fact that Williams still had two cars in the race made the decision not to pit even worse.

    Russell can take the gamble he wants and then they have Kubica on the other strategy which team thinks is better, and the majority of the field is using. If Russell strategy (along with other drivers like Stroll) fails, they have a chance with Kubica.

    For Racing Point it was really all or nothing with Stroll since Perez was out of the race.

    1. That was the big issue for me, having 2 cars gives you the flexibility to gamble on a split strategy that the likes of Mclaren didn’t have.

  11. Non story really. Pretty much every driver and team were thinking about slicks at this time including his teammate. What could’ve been doesn’t count…

  12. well can you blame them? i mean being right in there fighting tooth and nail for the WDC why should they take the risk. totally agree with the williams strategist they should continue their with their tried and true methods – winning! i mean why should they listen to their driver – the only member of the team who has any actual experience at winning (oh every category he has touched). i hope russell has an options clause in his contract.

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