George Russell made it clear to his Mercedes team he did not want to make a second pit stop in the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix.

He was running sixth ahead of his team mate Lewis Hamilton when Mercedes made the call to bring Russell in, over his objections.

Dropping Russell behind Hamilton cost him a position, but gave him the benefit of running on fresher tyres and allowed him to score the bonus point for fastest lap. That was a net gain for Mercedes, but for Russell it meant that instead of gaining two points compared to Hamilton he lost one.

However Mercedes didn’t justify the decision as a means of gaining that bonus point. They said they were growing concerned over the state of Russell’s tyres. He first pitted on lap 21, the earliest of the leaders to come in. In the second stint his rubber was five laps older than Hamilton’s, who began to make inroads into Russell’s advantage:

As Mercedes saw Russell’s pit stop margin over eighth-placed Sergio Perez shrink to the point where they could not get him out of the pits ahead of the Red Bull driver, they began to consider an extra pit stop for Russell. The driver was happy at first to stick with their plan not to pit again, but was starting to grow concerned about the state of his tyres:

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Lap: 46/63 HAM: 1’20.944, RUS: 1’21.227
Dudley So, George we’ve got 18 laps remaining. Just give me a tyre update.
Russell Feels very inconsistent, sliding front then the rears.
Dudley Yeah, copy that, but you’re happy for the stint length, question?
Russell I think so, it’s definitely dropping though.
Russell Leave comms to the straight.
Lap: 47/63 HAM: 1’21.069, RUS: 1’21.423
Hamilton Starting to lose the rears.
Bonnington Okay. Copy Lewis. It doesn’t look like wear, so that’s temperature.
Lap: 48/63 HAM: 1’20.921, RUS: 1’21.391
Russell Yeah starting to feel pretty poor now this tyre.
Dudley Copy that. So, 16 laps remaining.
Russell Yeah, rears feel bad.
Dudley So currently Lewis only car in our window.
Lap: 49/63 HAM: 1’21.182, RUS: 1’21.158
Hamilton Bit of a band appearing on the right-rear. Russell How far is the car ahead? That Williams?
Bonnington Copy Dudley So it’s Sargeant, 22.3.
Hamilton Pace?
Bonnington George 21.4. And George has similar comments on tyres.
Hamilton Rear has gone quite light for some reason.
Bonnington Okay.
Lap: 50/63 HAM: 1’20.698, RUS: 1’21.491
Hamilton Especially turning left.
Bonnington Okay. We’ll have a look. George a 21.2.
Bonnington And we’re happy with data.

Russell made a push to match Hamilton’s lap times on the 49th tour, but lost almost eight-tenths of a second the next time around. This appears to have prompted Mercedes to take action, but Russell was reluctant to make an extra pit stop unless Hamilton was told to cede position.

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Lap: 51/63 HAM: 1’20.776, RUS: 1’21.145
Bonnington So got Alonso and Sargeant ahead as traffic, they are racing. George was 21.5. Dudley So George, would you be happy with stopping if we lost a position to Lewis? We’ve got a window to Perez currently that is still open.
Russell Yeah I don’t mind.
Russell I’ll do it. If we’ll be…
Russell But I presume we’ll do a switch at the end or we… or we just?
Dudley Negative. So just give me a flap update.
Russell Leave it. But why would we bother if we’re not going to get that?
Dudley They’re just concerned on getting these tyres to the end. Up to you.
Russell I don’t want to concede a position for no reason.
Dudley Stay out.

Although Mercedes told Russell the decision to pit was “up to you”, and he told them he didn’t want to come in if he did not get his place back, the call came down to bring car 63 in for a second stop.

The first Hamilton knew of Russell’s pit stop came after it was done.

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Lap: 52/63 HAM: 1’21.176, RUS: 1’26.242
Hamilton Closer to traffic mate. Dudley So box, box we are coming in there’s a window to Perez. So box, box, pit confirm.
Bonnington Copy. They’re 2.3 ahead. George was 21.1 last lap.
Hamilton Yeah tyres are definitely dropping, mate. Got a band on left-rear.
Lap: 53/63 HAM: 1’21.415, RUS: 1’42.845
Bonnington Copy. So, George in the pit lane. He was struggling with rears. Got 11 laps remaining. Russell Let me know what the fastest lap is versus my delta.
Hamilton How many laps left? Dudley Perez at eight, seven, six, five, four, three…
Dudley So fastest lap currently is -1.1 on your dash.
Russell I don’t do strat two?
Dudley Green one. Position 14. And then strat two. And just think about diff high speed. And strat 13 over the line. Just be ready if you need overtake.

Russell set about taking the fastest lap, which he did, though he was briefly concerned by potential damage to his car afterwards.

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Lap: 55/63 HAM: 1’21.027, RUS: 1’19.778
Russell Something at the front of the floor broke braking for 15, 14.
Lap: 56/63 HAM: 1’21.297, RUS: 1’19.571
Dudley Copy that. Eight laps remaining.
Lap: 57/63 HAM: 1’21.664, RUS: 1’19.457
Dudley So data currently looks okay aero-wise.

By pitting Russell, Mercedes likely spared themselves seeing their two drivers fighting for position on worn rubber at the end of the race – always a scenario a team would prefer to avoid. After the race Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said the team had been concerned by the threat from Perez behind both their drivers.

Perez was a long way off catching either of them. But Mercedes may not have been alone in over-estimating his pace. Even after the Red Bull driver lost five seconds going off at Rivazza his team told him he had a chance of beating Hamilton, yet he finished nearly 20 seconds behind him.

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