Mercedes defend call to pit Russell from lead after ‘very surprising’ red flag

2023 Australian Grand Prix

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Mercedes are convinced they made the right decision to pit George Russell during an early Safety Car period in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, despite losing the advantage he gained when the race was red-flagged shortly afterwards.

Russell surrendered the lead of the race when he came into the pits on lap seven when the Safety Car was deployed in reaction to Alexander Albon crashing out of the race. The team’s chief technical officer James Allison said the incident occured “right on the cusp of whether a Safety Car stop is going to help you out or leave you a little bit worse off.”

The team decided to bring Russell in from the lead and fit a set of hard tyres to run to the end of the race. Lewis Hamilton, who had been second behind his team mate, stayed out and moved into the lead.

“We brought George in but left Lewis out because at that point it’s very finely balanced whether you’re going to get a benefit from the stop or not,” Allison explained in a video released by the team. “And by bringing one in and not the other, then you’re sort of splitting your risk. It’s like an each-way bet.”

Russell was leading when the Safety Car appeared
Russell fell to seventh place as a result of his pit stop but was set to run until the end of the race without pitting again. However that advantage was neutered when the race was red-flagged, allowing the rest of the field to change tyres with no time loss.

Allison believes the team made the right decision by “getting the best out of a cheap pit stop under the Safety Car”, despite the subsequent race stoppage. The race director’s decision to red-flag the race for the single-car incident was widely questioned.

“All that was rendered completely null and void when the red flag was then pulled out just a few seconds later,” said Allison. “Now, we were very surprised by that red flag because to us, that looked like the sort of incident that could have been cleared up under a yellow.

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“The moment that it goes red then, although you’ve got a cheap stop under a Safety Car, it’s nothing like as good as the free stop you get under a red flag. So I think the decision stands on the merits that we were considering when we made it. But obviously, once the red flag came out, then it clearly meant that George lost out a little bit.”

Alex Albon, Williams, Albert Park, 2023
Mercedes didn’t expect red flag for Albon’s crash
Soon after the race restarted a power unit failure ended Russell’s race. He had already recovered to fourth place by then and Allison believes he was set for a strong result.

“He was obviously a little ill-served by that red flag, lost a few slots on the grid instead of benefiting from the Safety Car stop that we hoped we would give to him,” said Allison. “But he would have had a strong race.

“He showed good pace all the way through the weekend, good in qualifying, strong start, good race pace and was set fair for a good result, even if he had been ill-served by the fortune of the red flag.”

Russell’s radio messages from his pit stop

Mercedes quickly responded to Albon’s crash by summoning Russell into the pits. He told the team he appreciated their aggressive strategy call:

Lap: 7/58
Dudley Gap 0.5. Safety Car, Safety Car. Keep the delta positive. We’ll go strat one.
Dudley So box, box. Box, box.
Dudley Just look out for traffic with Ferrari. Look out for traffic with Ferrari. We’re close on exit. So push to the line. That’s it you’re ahead of Tsunoda.
Lap: 8/58
Dudley The incident is turn six on the exit. Albon’s parked on the exit. Looks like there’s gravel across the track as well.
Russell What position are we?
Dudley So just be careful with the rears over this gravel. Avoid wheelspin. Currently P7.
Russell All right. Bold call, I like it.

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Unfortunately for Russell – and Carlos Sainz Jnr, who had also pitted, the red flag was thrown soon afterwards:

Dudley So, yeah, we just need to work on this hard tyre warm-up. You are the highest-placed car on the hard. You’re the first one to have stopped. If we can have green three position two, green three position two. So you’ve got a red flag.
Russell Get me tyre run data
Dudley Affirm. So just keep an eye on those brake temps. Box box box, staying in the fast lane.
Russell What does this mean now then for us?
Dudley Yeah, I’ll come down and talk to you about it.
Russell Let’s get these tyres rewrapped ASAP
Dudley Yeah affirm. Down to [unclear] tyre blankets.

Russell compared the situation to the Safety Car deployment in the previous race at Jeddah, in response to Lance Stroll’s retirement, which also surprised many people:

Russell Safety Car last week when it was totally unnecessary and now again this week.
Wolff Yeah sorry, George, that screwed us. But let’s do the most out of it. We can still go to the front on the podium, or better.
Russell Yeah it’s not your fault, guys. That was a good call.

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2023 Australian 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...

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20 comments on “Mercedes defend call to pit Russell from lead after ‘very surprising’ red flag”

  1. I’d call it the right decision in that situation seeing as nothing about Albon’s incident implied it would bring out a red flag. Why it did is anyone’s guess.

    1. @Craig Indeed. No one could’ve anticipated the red, so pitting beforehand was the right call at the time.

  2. petebaldwin (@)
    6th April 2023, 13:11

    If memory serves me correctly, Hamilton questioned over the radio why he was left out as he thought it was a good idea to pit. I think it was the right thing to do but unfortunately, Russell just got screwed by (as someone called it the other day) a showbiz red flag.

    It’s something the teams need to factor in to their strategy going forward… Instead of thinking “does this incident warrant a red flag”, they need to think “would a red flag coming out now improve The Show™ “

    1. I remember Hamilton got caught out similarly with the red flag in Jeddah in 2021. Though on that occasion it was clearly required due to the need for barrier repairs.

    2. Hamilton definitely complained about not getting called in. The team has a crap car and they were attempting to split the strategy. If HAM was the one that was called in instead of RUS, he would have been whining the rest of the race. Really unbecoming and a poor team player.

      1. This is very similar to last season where Hamilton pitted from an advantageous position, only or Russell to benefit a bit later from a safety car.
        Russell was arrogant enough to deny his good fortune and now finds himself on the opposite side of that good luck.

  3. It was the correct strategy especially to offset their driver strategy too and force Red Bull to commit one way or another. Russell was just unlucky he was the lead car this time and hence Mercedes chose him to gain the advantage of the cheap stop which ended up not being so cheap after all.

    1. Disagree, because it was clear any mercedes alone would be a sitting duck for verstappen, the only way to keep him behind was causing a drs train, which they had and gave up on when they pitted.

  4. It’s a bit of a farce that teams now have to guess whether an incident warrants a red flag or not given that it feels like the race directors are increasingly likely to throw it for incidents that (arguably) would be SC/VSC. It has a huge impact on the outcome of a race and requires what is effectively gambling to get on the right side of it.

    The obvious solution to me, to mitigate unfair advantages/disadvantages during incidents, would be to close the pit lane during SCs/VSCs and not allow tyre changes during red flags. I’m really surprised these rules haven’t been introduced, but as others mention, they wouldn’t improve the show (eye roll).

    1. An SC or Red Flag is when you’re most likely to have cars which need work doing because of the incident which caused it. If you close the pit lane, these drivers could end up having to retire, maybe even having to stop on track and delaying the restart, or else continue in a potentially unsafe condition. A similar situation occurs for disallowing tyre changes under red flags.

  5. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
    6th April 2023, 16:12

    F1 is slowly going down a rabbit hole with Safety car stops, red flag tyre changes and so called “Strategy”.

    Why allow anyone to gain an advantage because of a safety situation?
    Aren’t the procedures used supposed to neutralise the race, whilst safety work is done?

    It makes no sense, F1 claims to be the pinnacle of motorsport and then it provides the high speed casino so pot luck can enter the equation. Strategy in this case is just code for playing the odds in an arbitrary game of chance. It’s just wrong. No, no, no and no I say.

    No to Virtual/Safety Car pit stops and no to tyre changes/maintenance of cars under a red flag! We don’t need it!
    Of course if there is a safety concern and a car really needs to pit under yellow, then add x number of seconds when stationary so that no advantage is gained. Plus stop, wait and go penalties for work done under a red flag.

    F1 needs to go back to basics.

    1. I recall Indycar being constantly mocked for too readily deploying the safety car, but F1 seems to be getting towards going several steps further.

  6. Agreed. Why have this emphasis on “Strategy” if you allow cars to change tires during a red flag stop?

  7. I don’t think anybody would have expected that to be a red flag because in the 40+ years i’ve been following this sport I can’t recall any category i’ve ever watched ever showing the red flag during a race due to gravel on track.

    I’m also amazed to see so many within the F1 media trying to justify it by bringing up the Massa Hungary 2009 spring incident because the 2 are not really comparable at all.

    It smacks of them trying to tow the Liberty line & condition newer fans who don’t know any better to think this is normal so they accept it & defend it themselves. Also once again feels like they are just talking down the longer term F1 who know better by trying to insist we don’t know what we’re talking about. It’s the same as when Ross Brawn implied dedicated fans ‘aren’t normal’ or that ‘We just don’t like change’ which is one of the most condescending ways to just try and shut off the debate.

    It’s clear what fans F1 values most & it’s clear that it isn’t those who’ve been watching for more than 5 years. If you are a long term, dedicated & knowledgable fan who understands how things should work & can see through the PR nonsense then F1 doesn’t want you watching anymore. Sad but true!

    1. +1, absolutely

      (From a 43-year follower of F1)

  8. “+1, absolutely” +2

  9. You’d think the race officials would get tired of being ridiculed for goofy-ass race affecting bad calls. Guess not.

  10. He was losing it. In the radio message he was complaining about Hamilton and couldn’t take the pressure. They had to pull him in. This was before Redbull showed their real pace and rendered the whole point moot.

  11. Mercedes needs all the red flag stops they can get, their pit crew is routinely over 3 seconds per stop.

  12. I won’t comment on this because I’m a Mercedes fan. But I will be neutral on all matters.

Comments are closed.