Motorsport fans have accused F1 giants Mercedes of deliberately sabotaging Lewis Hamilton‘s stand-in driver’s race – after he was twice robbed of a fairytale debut win.
George Russell, 22, took the seat of seven-times world champion Hamilton, 35, for yesterday’s Sakhir Grand Prix after he tested positive for Covid-19.
But he was left devastated after his multi-million-pound car was hit by two tyre issues, most unusually from his own pit stop team.
He still managed to finish ninth, fuelling talk that the car is the reason for the team’s extraordinary success.
Sir Jackie Stewart said in October ‘The car and engine are now so superior that it’s almost unfair on the rest of the field’.
Russell, from King’s Lynn, Norfolk, had been in the lead when he went in on lap 63 under the safety car.
His team put mixed tyres on his car, with one belonging to his teammate Valtteri Bottas, forcing the young driver to come in again to get it changed, forcing him back to fifth place.
Shortly towards the end he suffered a rear-left puncture, which meant he had to pit again to solve the problem.
Mercedes were later fined £18,200 ($20,000) for the tyres mix up, which saw Russell finish in 9th place. They are understood to deny any claims of deliberate wrongdoing.
Today F1 fans reacted with surprise at the mistake, with some accusing the team of trying to protect Hamilton’s reputation by hampering his stand-in.
Charlie Wills asked: ‘You telling me Mercedes didn’t out the wrong tyres on on purpose mate so he didn’t win in Lewis car?
‘When have Mercedes ever put the wrong tyres on ? Absolutely farcical.’
George Russell and Lewis Hamilton together in Abu Dhabi back on November 22 in 2018
Ralph Ehlers added: ‘Bit of a coincidence, hmm? Years of no failure.
‘Then…when Lewis could be knocked of his high-chair – you guys can´t even remember that tyres are round?
‘Shame on you. Massive blow to the Mercedes Brand- and AMG.’
Jake Smyth said: ‘I don’t buy Mercedes mistake with Russell’s tyres at the Bahrain Grand Prix. A substitide doing so well then is put behind.
I’m suspicious the team didn’t want Hamilton to be undermined because let’s face it, up to then like I’ve always said the reason for his success is the car.’
Twitter user Taisto added: ‘Mercedes intentionally sabotaged Russell so that nobody can say ‘everyone can win in a Merc’. They really are doing everything in their power to protect Lewis & his legacy. Something like this would never happen with Lewis.’
Russell collapsed on the ground at the side of the Bahrain paddock following the race
Russell’s car was hit by two tyre issues, most unusually from his own pit stop team
Russell collapsed on the ground at the side of the Bahrain paddock following the race.
In an emotional radio message following 87 laps of frenetic action under the lights of the Sakhir Circuit, Russell’s voice cracked as he spoke to his temporary team.
‘I don’t know what to say,’ he said. ‘That was taken away from us twice. F****** honestly. It has been a pleasure, and I have f****** loved it. I am gutted, absolutely gutted.’
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff came on the radio to apologise. Later, the Austrian said: ‘Overall for us it was a colossal f***-up. I know I’m not allowed to say that but it was.’
Russell, promoted to the fastest Formula One machine in history, had been in complete control of the penultimate round of the championship.
At one point he was five seconds clear of Valtteri Bottas when Mercedes called both of their drivers in for new rubber after a safety car was deployed following a spin by rookie Jack Aitken.
Twitter users questioned how Mercedes has managed to make such a huge tyre mistake
But Russell’s pit crew did not hear the message. When Russell arrived in his marks, Bottas’ tyres were put on the Briton’s car. That meant Russell had to come into the pits again on the following lap, dropping him to fifth.
‘You should now have a tyre advantage,’ Russell’s race engineer for the weekend, Pete Bonnington told the young Briton. ‘I f****** hope so,’ Russell replied.
After the race he said: ‘I cannot really put it into words.
‘Jumping out of the car, it wasn’t a nice feeling to be honest. I have had races where I have had victories taken away from me, but twice? I just couldn’t believe it.
‘We had the muddle up in the pit-stop and that put us on the back foot. I had to overtake, and we could have caught Sergio because we had such tyre advantage and the car was so quick.
‘At one point I was eight seconds clear of Valtteri and I thought this is too good to be true and it turned out it was.
‘I am gutted, but incredibly proud of what we achieved and happy to have had the opportunity.’
Russell could be in the Mercedes cockpit in Abu Dhabi next Sunday. Hamilton returned a positive Covid-19 test on Monday and is isolating in Bahrain.
However, Wolff said his star driver is in line to return for the season finale providing he returns a negative result. ‘Lewis said he is a bit better today and feels he has made a big step,’ Wolff concluded.
Mercedes have not responded to a request for comment from MailOnline over the social media ‘sabotage’ claims.