Mercedes handed €20,000 fine for Russell tyre mix-up in Sakhir Grand Prix
George Russell leaves the Sakhir Grand Prix with the first points of his Formula 1 career, after the stewards opted to give Mercedes a fine – rather than disqualification – after they fitted the wrong tyres to the Briton’s car during a pit stop.
Russell, standing in for Lewis Hamilton who tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of the event, was dominating the race in Bahrain and looked set to score a remarkable maiden victory on Sakhir’s unique Outer Loop layout.
However, when Mercedes called both Russell and team mate Valtteri Bottas into the pits when the Safety Car was called out two-thirds into the race, there was a mix up and they accidentally fitted Bottas’ front tyres to Russell’s car.
The stewards heard that there was a “radio communications technical issue” which meant Russell’s crew did not hear the pit wall’s call to get ready for Russell because at the same time, a message from Russell was played out on top of that call.
“This is clearly a breach of the regulations and would normally involve a sporting penalty up to disqualification,” said the stewards in their ruling.
However, rather than penalising the driver, the FIA opted to fine the team because they say “in this case there are mitigating circumstances, additional to the radio issue referred to above”.
The stewards said: “Firstly, the team rectified the problem within one lap. This involved Car 63 [Russell] making another pit stop, thus dropping it further down the classification.
“Secondly, Car 77 [Bottas] made a pit stop to change tyres only to find that the front tyres to be fitted to it, were on Car 63, so was sent out after considerable delay, with the tyres that were on Car 77 prior to the pit stop. This also impacted the final classification of Car 77.
“Thirdly, although this type of infringement is not catered for under the “three-lap tolerance” referred to in the second paragraph of Article 24.4 b) (which currently only refers to the use of tyres of differing specifications), we consider it to be similar in nature.
“However, the responsibility to fit tyres in compliance with the regulations, still rests with any team and thus a penalty is considered as being required. It is recommended that the FIA consider amending Article 24.4 b) to accommodate this type of breach when it is rectified without delay.”
They added that “this type of breach has not previously been experienced in Formula 1.”
It means Russell keeps his first points - the two he scored for ninth, plus the one for fastest lap - moving him into 18th in the drivers’ championship. His impressive showing at the front in Bahrain means he has now led more laps in 2020 than anybody other than Lewis Hamilton or Bottas.
We now wait and see whether he will get a second chance at Mercedes in Abu Dhabi.