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.
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
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.
George Russell took second position in qualifying but fell foul of a series of incidents in-race
Twitter users questioned how Mercedes has managed to make such a huge tyre mistake
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.
FACT BOX TITLE
Lewis Hamilton has never been far from the top level in F1, but his move to Mercedes certainly propelled him to glory. He has won six Drivers’ Championships at the team. The only season Hamilton failed to win in the last seven years was in 2016, when he was pipped to the post by his team-mate Nico Rosberg.
This Mercedes dominance has only added fuel to the claims that the car, and not the driver, is behind Hamilton’s success.
LEWIS HAMILTON’S F1 CAREER
Hamilton finished: 2nd
It was a record-breaking year for Hamilton in his debut season where he came within a point of winning the world title as a rookie. However, in the penultimate race in China, Hamilton’s title hopes went up in smoke when he famously went into the gravel trap at the start of the pit-lane.
Hamilton’s success in the sport continued but this time, he would get his maiden title at the end of it in dramatic circumstances. Having amassed five wins and 10 podiums, it was his final victory in Brazil that saw him win the title on the last lap and upset home favourite Felipe Massa.
After a successful two years in Formula One, Hamilton’s form dropped off and he finished down in fifth. While he still found himself on the podium, he rarely challenged as fellow Brit Jenson Button sealed the title.
Hamilton was still suffering from a hangover from his title-winning campaign which left fans wanting more from the Brit. Sebastian Vettel’s dominant four year spell with Red Bull begins.
Now in an inferior car at McLaren, things still aren’t looking good for Hamilton and finishes once again in a lowly fifth – his joint-lowest finish in Formula One.
Hamilton vowed to return to his best and managed to achieve four wins in his final season in a McLaren. However, he was still 90 points adrift of Vettel in a blistering Red Bull.
Hamilton left McLaren to join up with childhood karting team-mate Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. The move was a shock to fans and pundit alike and managed just one win that season.
Hamilton’s dominance in the sport begins as he storms to his second world title and first with Mercedes as he and Rosberg battle it out for the title. However, the Brit is far superior to his German team-mate.
A second successive world title for Hamilton in the Silver Arrows which saw the use of turbo-hybrid engines a year earlier contribute to his dominance in the sport.
Nico Rosberg finally gets the better of Hamilton but he would be the only man to do so from this year onwards. Rosberg retires immediately after winning the championship by five points.
Hamilton is back on top following Rosberg’s retirement with Valtteri Bottas driving the other Mercedes. However, he’s no competition for Hamilton who wins his fourth world title.
Still no competition for Hamilton in what has become a superior car in Formula One. Racks up a staggering 408 points that year.
Hamilton matches his 2018 podiums and wins total while bettering his points haul by five more points. His most dominant year yet.
Hamilton storms to his fourth successive title and matches Michael Schumacher’s record of seven world titles.
*Still one more race left on the race calendar
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.