How queue-jumping Russell avoided an F1 penalty in Hungary

Formula 1’s top stars know that if they no longer go for a gap that exists, they are no longer a racing driver. So when George Russell saw a big gap at the pit lane exit ahead of the restart at the Hungarian Grand Prix, he went for it.

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After emerging from his tyre change into a queue of cars to the left of him that were all patiently waiting for the pit exit line to turn green, the sharp eyed Briton saw a huge empty space to the right of them.

So rather than line-up in his designated spot, or even behind teammate Nicholas Latifi, he went for the free area of a track

“What can I do? Can I go to the front of the queue?” he asked over the team radio as he moved forwards.

After declaring an expletive, he was given the simple message: “Negative” by his team.

By then, though, it was too late to back out. He had jumped everyone and was the front-running car on slick tyres – with potentially the lead his once Lewis Hamilton was forced to stop at the end of the lap.

“I thought I was leading the race at some point to be honest," said Russell afterwards. “It was just on that restart that it was a very odd situation, having everybody queuing up at the end of the pit lane.

“In an ordinary set of circumstances you can overtake cars in the pit lane or you can pull out and race them. So I saw an opportunity and I just thought, ‘screw it, let's go for it because with risk versus reward, the reward part outweighed the risk.”

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But with Williams' 'negative' message making it clear that he shouldn't have done it,  Russell quickly knew his reward was going to be short lived.

For with it clear that he had potentially broken the rules by overtaking cars in the pitlane, there was an acceptance from both the team and driver that he could be handed a timed or stop-go penalty.

In Russell’s head, the likelihood of a penalty meant that he just needed to get his head down and try to build up as much of an advantage as he could to counter any time loss.

“I always look forward,” he said. “When a situation is done it's done, you can't change it. So I just thought, I'm going to get a drive-through penalty here, so I’ll put my foot down and try and pull a gap. It's going to be a 20-second penalty or whatever, so I'll just go for it.

“And if not, I'm in the lead of a race, and I've got to try and seal it. Yeah, it was opportunistic. Sometimes that's life, you just got to go for this when the reward is that high.”

But unbeknown to Russell at the time, his Williams team was well on the case and messaged through to F1 race director Michael Masi that it accepted there had been an error and would make amends.

At that moment, Masi had not gone as far as reporting Russell’s pit lane queue jumping to the stewards – so Williams’ quick thinking stopped that from happening.

Masi explained: “George [Russell] realised his error and the team came across immediately and said 'we've made a mistake, we're going to drop behind Fernando [Alonso]'. It was actually at the team's initiation.”

 

Nicholas Latifi, Williams Racing and George Russell, Williams Racing celebrate with the team

Nicholas Latifi, Williams Racing and George Russell, Williams Racing celebrate with the team

Photo by: Williams

Russell instantly accepted Williams’ orders to drop back to behind Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, and Masi was satisfied that there was no need for the incident to be taken further.

For a young driver who has faced some incredible bad luck in his career, he was just thankful that the FIA had not gone hard ball on the pit exit confusion – thereby robbing him of what become his first F1 points for Williams.

Speaking afterwards, Russell said: “I'm really thankful to the FIA for showing a bit of common sense just to say 'give those positions back'.

“They could have come through and given me a drive-through. So that was great. I wasn't too sure what to do. But I saw an opportunity and I went for it.”

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