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today is May 31, 2023

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.

“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

  • “Got away with that one!”: F1 drivers’ unheard reactions to restart chaos
  • Mercedes defend call to pit Russell from lead after ‘very surprising’ red flag
  • Alpine making “huge effort” to stockpile spare parts during break before Baku
  • Ferrari make worst start to a season in 14 years while Hamilton breaks a record
  • Ferrari tried a last-lap ‘Hail Mary’ play for Sainz – but their rivals were ready

Browse all 2023 Australian Grand Prix articles