Russell “cheeky” move forces Barcelona circuit alternation

Sergio Perez’s hopes remained high for the 2023 Formula One Spanish GP despite the second successive driver error he made during qualifying session. The Red Bull driver started the race in P11 but with the comfort that two of his mai rivals were behind him on the grid.

Mercedes’ George Russell too had experienced a difficult qualifying and was P12 on the grid while Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc began the race second to last and from the pit lane.



Surprise tyre choice for Perez

In the quickest of all the current Formula One cars, Perez was expected to make his way through the pack and finish in one of the lower podium positions.

The reality of yesterday saw the Mexican driver struggle to get through the field and at the chequered flag was only fourth.

Yet two specific decisions ruined Checo’s chance to finish in the top three. The first was one involving the Red Bull team.

No one knows which tyres each car will start on until that all important moment just three minutes before the formation lap when the tyre warming blankets are removed.



Russell blasts by Checo at start

When Red Bull removed Perez’s tyre warmers it was immediately obvious he had been given the medium Pirelli tyre. More importantly those around him were predominantly on the softer tyre which helps the cars get away from a standing start more quickly.

This included George Russell starting 8 metres behind Sergio Perez and when the lights went out the Mercedes driver blasted past Checo within a few metres of ‘lights out.’

Russell then found himself on the outside of turn one with the McLaren of Oscar Piastri and the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg on his inside.

The Mercedes driver decided three cars into a corner wide enough for two was a no go and bailed out down the newly designed FIA ‘escape route’. This is intended to ensure cars that leave the track return in a safe manner by staying on the escape path.

Mercedes make Hamilton final offer



FIA fail with off track escape route

Unfortunately, the FIA simulations did not make it clear that this alternative route was in fact as quick if not quicker than the car staying on the actual route of the track.

Before leaving the track in turn one Russell was just behind the Haas of Hulkenberg entering the corner. He emerged after turn two alongside the Haas and so with a small lift on the accelerator he blended back in behind the Haas car.

He was now ahead of Perez and Piastri who had started ahead of the British driver. Sky F1 commentators initially believed Russell had gained an unfair advantage, gaining a position while off the circuit.

At turn four lap 1 Russell found himself able to slip inside the battling Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon making another two places to sit behind Alonso in eight place.



Russell pre-meditated decision 

Meanwhile Sergio Perez starting on the slower medium tyre had fallen back and was now six places behind Russell.

Nico Rosberg claims it looked like a premeditated decision from Russell.

“He definitely maximised the opportunity and turn 1 – its almost like he had planned to go that way,” laughed the 2016 F1 drivers’ champion.

“I feel the same way,” said co-presenter Naomi Schiff. “From the first angel it seems like he’s being squeezed off – from the second angle it looked like there was enough room for him tonged around but he made that choice.”

FIA punish Steiner



Changes to Barcelona turn 1 now inevitable

“Now that’s the way he can go there is a route to do it so he’s done it all the right way.”

“So I guess maybe from the FIA side or maybe Formula One side they should be looking – there should be something to lose by going the alternative route.”

Rosberg agreed, “you need to make that route slower then it will stop people from going there and it would have probably stopped George from going there today.”

The Red Bull team boss was philosophical over the Russell move noting, “[Perez] lost out in the early laps. He didn’t have a great start. George managed to get away with running off track, not getting a penalty for that.”



Russell close to penalty

“I think that was the difference at the end of the day. Checo’s race was getting stronger and stronger. In that last stint, in particular he was coming back very strong. There were just not enough laps to get that podium.”

Russell attempted to defend his move explaining: “I got a bit squeezed. I made a decision because I knew there were two cars on the inside of me.

“I knew if I was going to keep it [on the circuit], I was going to come together with Hulkenberg. I knew it was him, I came out behind him and no advantage was gained.”

What Russell didn’t know was just how close he was to receiving a penalty. The other side of Russell was the McLaren of Piastri who Russell could not see.

Perez driving style the root of his problems



Stewards lenient on George Russell

TV replays demonstrated Russell was in fact just ahead of Piastri going into turn one even though he had no chance of making the corner due to the speed he was carrying.

Sky F1’s Anothony Davidson showed after the race from TV replays, “It’s close, but I do believe he was just ahead of the McLaren,” claimed the ex-Mercedes test driver.

“I think it’s because he was just ahead of the McLaren, that’s why he didn’t have to give the place back. It’s tight, but I think as the rules go, he just about got away with it. That’s why he didn’t get a penalty.”

Despite the relative position of Russell to Piastri at the point George left the circuit, the stewards could have decided the Mercedes driver was only ahead of the McLaren because he charged with unrealistic speed into the corner – and was therefore only ahead of the McLaren because of his reckless corner entry.

READ MORE: Barcelona F1 race to rotate with Madrid

One response to “Russell “cheeky” move forces Barcelona circuit alternation

  1. Firstly, nothing new in that rejoin route as that has been in place at Circuit de Catalunya’s T1-2 runoff area for a long time, & I highly doubt he’d have premeditated, which was somewhat plausible in Alonso’s similar 2021 Russian GP case.
    Besides, driving that route is most certainly slower than on the track, but because of all cars getting bunched up, the effect got nullified, so only an opening lap-specific thing.
    Checo also did similarly in the 2019 French GP.

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