Lewis Hamilton: George Russell crash at Qatar GP '100 per cent my fault' as he apologises to Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton apologises to team-mate George Russell and Mercedes for the first-corner clash that saw him spin off into the gravel and damage the sister car; watch the video, SkyPad analysis and hear from the Sky pundits on the dramatic all-Mercedes collision at the start of the Qatar GP
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 09/10/23 12:38am
Lewis Hamilton has apologised to George Russell and Mercedes after taking "100 per cent fault" for the first-corner collision with his team-mate at the start of the Qatar Grand Prix.
The Mercedes drivers came together as they went three abreast with Max Verstappen for the race lead into Turn One of Sunday's race.
Hamilton, starting on grippier soft tyres compared to Verstappen and Russell's slower mediums, attempted to go around the outside of the sister Mercedes but tagged his countryman's front wheel and both cars spun off track.
Both drivers initially blamed each other on team radio but Hamilton was quick to accept responsibility in his media interviews once back in the paddock.
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Even before seeing a replay of the incident, a downcast Hamilton had told Sky Sports F1: "I just feel really sorry to my team. It was an opportunity today to get some good points.
"In the heat of the moment, I didn't really understand what happened, I just obviously felt the tap from behind.
"But I don't think George probably had anywhere to go and, yeah, it's just one of those really unfortunate situations.
"I mean, I'm happy to take responsibility as the older one."
And once he had seen a replay a a short while later, Hamilton then reaffirmed his fault and apology to his team and team-mate on social media.
"I've watched the replay and it was 100 per cent my fault and I take full responsibility," he posted on X.
"Apologies to my team and to George."
Russell had sounded particularly furious about what had happened in his initial team radio messages during the race.
The 25-year-old had been forced to pit for repairs at the end of the opening lap but from there staged a strong recovery drive to fourth place.
Russell cut a calmer figure in interviews after the race. He too later posted a message on social media, which featured an image and video of a post-race embrace with Hamilton and the message "no hard feelings".
Russell also wrote that "we misjudged it today".
What happened and what was said on team radio?
Starting second with Russell and third with Hamilton behind polesitter Verstappen after one of their best qualifying results of the season, Mercedes ran split tyre strategies for the start of a race where strategy had been complicated by the FIA mandating maximum stint lengths of 18 laps per tyre due to safety concerns.
Russell, like Verstappen, ran the medium tyres for the start. The yellow-marked compound sits in the middle of Pirelli's weekend range and balances speed with durability.
Hamilton started with new softs, the red-marked compound that offers superior initial speed and grip but loses performance earlier, usually requiring an earlier pit stop. Starting on the clean side of the grid too, Hamilton therefore appeared likely to pose an early challenge to the two front-row starters.
At the lights, both Mercedes' made good starts, with Verstappen moving right to cover off Russell. Hamilton was initially slightly behind them on the outside.
As the pack raced down the pit straight, the leading duo jinked left to take the racing line for the first right-hander, meaning Hamilton had to go further left. But the seven-time champion sensed a chance to launch a move around the outside of the sister Mercedes into the Turn One braking zone.
But then came disaster.
Hamilton's right-rear tyre tagged Russell's front-left, a decisive impact which saw the tyre detach itself from the rim and the seven-time champion spin off the track, run backwards into the gravel and drop immediately out of the race.
Russell spun too but was able to continue, although his Mercedes was damaged and so he had to pit at the end of the opening lap with the Safety Car now out for Hamilton's stranded car.
Several rounds of heat-of-the-moment team radio exchanges followed on the world TV feed as the drivers - and team - attempted to digest what had just happened after the cardinal rule of motorsport - never crash with your team-mate - had been broken.
"[Expletive] Come on! What the hell?
"Guys, come on. [Expletive] Two races in a row!"
Peter Bonnington, Hamilton's race engineer
"Lewis, I hope you're OK mate?"
"Yeah, I got taken out by my own team-mate."
"So sorry, guys, I wasn't even looking behind. I was just focused ahead and he just came from nowhere. Arghh!"
"[Expletive]. Lost for words, honestly. I've just seen the replays on the TV screen. I couldn't do anything. I was totally sandwiched."
Marcus Dudley, Russell's race engineer
"Keep your head down, keep it in this race."
"Yeah, I know, I know, I know. It's… [expletive] lap one."
Toto Wolff, Mercedes team principal
"George, let's race now. Let's do the best out of it."
The Sky F1 pundits on where the blame lay
Sky Sports F1's Nico Rosberg:
"It was 100 per cent Lewis' error. It's a slight misjudgement. Not a big misjudgement. He doesn't leave quite enough space for George.
"It's all on Lewis, which he has already admitted to."
Sky Sports F1's Karun Chandhok:
"Russell had no wiggle room.
"He couldn't move to the right because Verstappen was there. Lewis has gone around the outside for the lunge and made that contact.
"Verstappen was where he was, he didn't move, and Russell couldn't move. The point is, out of those two drivers, George couldn't have given Lewis more room but Lewis could have given more room."
What did Russell and Mercedes say afterwards? | Could the team have approached the first corner differently?
It is the third race running where the Mercedes drivers have found themselves in very close company on track and the second where Russell expressed frustration with Hamilton's driving over the radio.
But Russell was more philosophical after the race, telling Sky F1: "We both had the possibility of standing on the podium. Obviously nothing intentional both ways.
"These cars are so difficult to see when you are racing - there's big blind spots.
"We both have so much respect for one another. We will go past this and I'm sure we will speak and everything will be OK."
With team boss Toto Wolff absent for the second race running while he continues his recovery from recent knee surgery - the Austrian instead keeping in touch via intercom from home, as evidenced by his message to Russell after the collision - his usual responsibilities at the track have again been shared by various senior figures.
Bradley Lord, the team's communications director, told Sky F1: "Worst possible start and the worst possible thing that can happen for a race team to see your two cars collide.
"For sure, on lap one with George at the back and Lewis in the gravel, things didn't look brilliant at all. To turn that around with George in P4 and outscoring Ferrari on an afternoon was not something we could have hoped for once we were one lap into the race."
Asked what they had discussed ahead of the race with the drivers about the first corner given their differing starting tyres, Lord added: "We discussed it in the morning so it was a scenario we'd been through with the differing start line performance. In the moment they just ran out of space. You can't program everything even with discussion beforehand."
On the same topic, Russell said: "We spoke about Lewis getting ahead at Turn One. It was just a very difficult situation."
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