George Russell, Mercedes, Silverstone, 2022

Mercedes understood Russell’s “natural reaction” to check on Zhou

2022 Austrian Grand Prix

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George Russell says his Mercedes team understood why he felt the need to check on Guanyu Zhou following his crash at the start of the British Grand Prix, despite it leading to his retirement from the race.

The Mercedes driver was knocked into Zhou’s car at the start of Sunday’s race, flipping it upside down, and sending it over a tyre barrier.

Russell stopped his damaged car and went to check on Zhou. When he returned to his car it was already being retrieved by marshals, forcing Russell to retire from the race, though it later emerged the damage to his car was not enough to prevent him continuing.

Mercedes “absolutely” understood why Russell went to check on Zhou, he said during yesterday’s FIA press conference.

“It was just a natural reaction,” Russell explained. “For me to do that, obviously the race was red-flagged, and seeing such a horrific incident, I thought at the time as well my car was probably game over. As it turned out, it wasn’t.

“So I think that just added to the emotions, the frustrations, because we definitely could have got going again and probably could have scored a strong result.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said they were “proud of the character he showed after the incident” on Sunday.

Russell admitted seeing Zhou’s car lodged between the tyre barrier and debris fence provoked a fearful response.

“For me, it was sort of horrifying to see him trapped in there, literally not being able to get out of the car,” he said. “He was obviously fine and I could see he was moving.

“But I think we all, as drivers, we all know how sort of – I wouldn’t say claustrophobic – but you’re sort of in there pretty tight, you’ve got the helmet on, you’ve got the Halo there, the headrest, and then when you’ve got a tyre wall effectively on top of your head blocking your exit, hanging upside down, it’s just a horrible situation to be in.”

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Zhou’s experience shows more thought needs to be put into the layout of barriers to prevent a repeat in the future, Russell believes.

“I think from every sort of disaster there’s an opportunity to improve as a sport or whatever it may be, and clearly things could have been maybe positioned slightly differently to have given him that exit.

“There was a gap between the barriers and the catch fence and he was obviously trapped in there. That needs to be resolved and, yeah, it wasn’t nice for sure.”

Footage of Zhou’s crash shot by fans showed how “scary” the moment was, said Russell.

“I think it’s an element of motor sport that you’re always going to have big accidents at some point during every calendar year. Every incident offers an opportunity to learn from.

“I think, the roll hoop got smashed off, and where the car rolled into, and also just for the fans as well, seeing the fan footage was pretty, pretty scary. So, it’s a constant evolution.

“I think as a sport, we’ve come so far, but it’s never going to stop. And if we fast forward 30 years we’re still going to be probably talking about the same things. And that’s just racing and what happens when you go at speed.”

Russell pointed out he had a similar experience of being trapped in a car earlier in his career. “I actually rolled my kart in a race in 2008,” he said.

“I was trapped under the car and I was actually burning my arm because the exhaust was stuck on top of me. And this other driver stopped to lift the kart off me and helped me out there.”

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2022 Austrian Grand Prix

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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...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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18 comments on “Mercedes understood Russell’s “natural reaction” to check on Zhou”

  1. I understand why drivers want to help when they see one of their colleagues in danger, but I don’t think it’s something we want to be encouraging.

    Looking specifically at this incident, Russell stood on the tyre barriers and gestured for other marshals to come over. From the TV pictures it doesn’t seem that he was actually able to offer any practical help. By getting out of his car he was putting himself at additional risk should another car come off the circuit at the same place. He abandoned his car meaning marshals started to recover it – marshals that might otherwise have been able to help Zhou.

    If he’s managed to even get his car round a couple of corners before abandoning it then it would have avoided Russell’s car being a distraction for the marshals at turn 1.

    My principle is get yourself out of there, and let the marshals do what they are there for. That’s for Formula 1 at least, where there are lots of marshals and heavy cars. Less relevant at a kart track with fewer marshals and more chance an extra person would be helpful.

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      8th July 2022, 9:37

      It’s a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ choice though isn’t it. Many people think – not me I hasten to add – he was responsible for the crash and so if he had continued he would have got huge amounts of criticism.

    2. He thought he was out I guess. Radio comments seem to indicate that. So he would have to leave his car anyway. I think it’s nice of him to check on his colleague, but his practical use would indeed be limited. But a nice gesture, I think.

    3. Ian, sorry, firstly I accidentally clicked the “REPORT” button for your comment.

      But in reply, to quote Maverick in Top Gun. “You don’t have time to think up there. If you think, you’re dead”
      OK, not exactly correct for this scenario, but it’s human nature to go help in this instance. Russell didn’t “think”, he just “did”. His only thought was the safety of another driver, no mater how little help he could give. At the time he left his own car, he assumed he would probably be the first person on the scene and in this scenario, those few seconds could mean the difference between life and death for the trapped driver.

      The sensible thing to do definitely would be to leave it for the marshals, but you’ll never stop this kind of behaviour, especially when you body is filling up with huge amounts of the super hormone, adrenaline.

    4. To clarify and in response to all three of the comments above, I was not intending to criticise Russell’s actions in this specific case.

      Rather, it was a comment on the general culture. I’d like the FIA to issue instructions that drivers should not stop to assist other drivers.

      1. I don’t think Russell stopped to assist.

        1. What else was he doing when he got out of his car and walked towards Zhou? The article headline describes it as “checking on Zhou”. I’m making the assumption that he was also looking to see if there was anything he could do to help.

    5. I would note that Russell would have been maybe the first on the scene in a fire suit and a full face helmet. Maybe that’s not what was in his mind. But thinking back to Grosjean, if he didn’t get himself out, the marshall holding the extinguisher wasn’t going to do it for him.

    6. I don’t think anyone is “encouraging” this sort of behaviour, Mercedes just said they understood why he did it. I also don’t understand how “he was putting himself at additional risk should another car come off the circuit at the same place” when the race was red flagged before they’d completed the lap.
      I don’t think you’re giving the marshals a lot of credit here either. The marshals working on Zhou’s car wouldn’t have been distracted by an abandoned car where the driver is already out. You say marshals recovering Russell’s car may have been able to help Zhou, intimating that there isn’t enough marshals, but go on to say, “there are lots of marshals” at a Formula One race.
      And your principle, “get yourself out of there, and let the marshals do what they are there for”, that’s exactly what Russell did, because at that point he assessed that his car was too damaged to continue.
      In your comment you don’t seemed to have looked at the whole picture.

      1. By encouraging I mean those who after the event have said he did the right thing. That means that a future driver who finds themselves in a similar situation will be more likely to stop and attempt to assist.

        “the race was red flagged before they’d completed the lap”

        Was it already red flagged at the point that Russell got out of the car? Did he check that? Did he check that no cars had stalled on the grid and were now about to come past? Yes, it’s unlikely another car would come off at that corner so soon after the first lap incident, but it’s not impossible. You never want anyone walking about an active circuit who doesn’t need to be there.

        “The marshals working on Zhou’s car wouldn’t have been distracted by an abandoned car where the driver is already out.”

        Some marshals were working on Russell’s car. If Russell’s car wasn’t there then those marshals would have been free with assist with Zhou’s car. Whether they would have been useful or not I don’t know, but they would have been available. Russell made himself available as an extra pair of hands, but in doing so removed at least two other pairs of hands.

        This isn’t a criticism of Russell’s actions which I believe were instinctive and out of a desire to ensure Zhou was not harmed. I’m just questioning whether those actions were in fact helpful, or if they did more harm than good.

  2. I think history is being rewritten here. As if Russell willingly sacrificed his race to help Zhou. The truth is that Russell and Mercedes thought Russell’s race was over and therefore he had no reason not to leave the car.

    Looking at Russell’s onboard, he first tries to keep going before stopping his car and saying to his team “I’m out”. His team had no objections and just informed him about the modes before leaving the car.

    To Russell’s credit, he’s not claiming anything else. As he said: “I thought at the time as well my car was probably game over.”

    In any case, running to Zhou showed true sportsmanship. I’m not denying that at all and Russell should be proud of himself. But this narrative about Russell retiring to help Zhou is false in my opinion.

    1. Lots of similar false/twisted statements like this come from Mercedes. I think Russell actually showed immaturity here, allowing himself to be overtaken with emotion in the heat of the moment, similar to his crash with Botas at Imola.

      1. Nothing false about Mercedes/Russell statement here. He thought he was out of the race – he said as much so on race radio and on this interview.

        Also Hotbottoms didnt accuse Mercedes or Russell of making false statements. In fact he praised Russell for saying it how it is. He is saying that other people are writing that narrative.

      2. Would you say the same when Senna went to Eric Comas rescue in 1992 Belgium GP? Comas claims Senna’s actions saved his life by switching off his engine and supporting his head until the medical crew arrived. Immaturity is not the word I’d use here.

    2. Wherever that narrative is coming from, it’s definitely not coming from this article, which writes that the the damage was not enough to prevent him from continuing. It also quotes Russell as saying he thought he was already out when it turns out he wasn’t.

      1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        8th July 2022, 12:29

        The entire tyre was ripped off the wheel rim, which itself got a heck of a wallop and was also rather damaged. When he was getting out of his car (even just standing up), his car was wobbling like a see-saw. There was basically no chance of getting back to the pits without getting further damage to the floor and other areas.

        The other thing that he seemed to have forgotten is that he can’t have any assistance to get back to the pit lane – and then continue. He undid his seat belt and got out. That is it. Drivers cannot do up the seatbelts themselves, and hamilton got a heavy fine last year in one race for undoing it during the cool down lap.

        Given Russell is so concerned with safety, he should have been aware that there wasn’t a chance he could have driven back and complied with the rules anyway.

        His respect towards a driver that has just had a heavy impact can vary though. He was entirely at fault for what happened with Bottas in imola last year and the first thing he attempted to do was slap bottas in the helmet. Questionable how the incident or his actions didn’t get investigated really. Bottas’s collision impact was actually far greater than zhou, but he ended up in a safer position at least and it didn’t look as dramatic.

    3. Nailed it mate. He thought he was out, but showed good sportsmanship by running over.

      If he thought he could get back to the pits – I dare say he would’ve done.

  3. Not a fan of George, but I liked his reaction whether it was helpful or not or whether he thought he was sacrificing his race or not. He was genuinely concerned. I’m sure of that. And as someone who is very claustrophobic, I would be happy to hear any familiar voice in that situation.

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