Mercedes feared a water leak on George Russell’s car could have denied him Formula 1 victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix, but opted not to inform him of the issue.
It ended Mercedes’ winless season with one race to spare, and came two years after Russell was cruelly denied a likely victory at the Sakhir Grand Prix when he made a stand-in appearance for the team.
But it emerged after the race that an issue on Russell’s car left Mercedes sweating on him actually getting to the chequered flag, revealing there had been a water leak that emerged at half distance.
“We had a water leak on the car throughout the race, and it wasn’t clear that we could actually make it to the end,” said team principal Toto Wolff.
The team explained that it had concerns at one stage the water leak would leave Russell a handful of laps short of reaching the finish, only for the car to hold on and make the chequered flag.
Russell was not informed there was the issue on his car as Wolff said the team members “all agreed we’re going to let him drive to the end even without water, on whatever was there to cool it, and just try to finish the race.”
Russell defeated Max Verstappen in a wheel-to-wheel fight in the sprint race on Saturday to gain P1 on the grid, and then managed to keep the sister Red Bull of Sergio Perez at bay in the opening stint.
A late threat came courtesy of Hamilton, who was free to race Russell on the last safety car restart and had tyres that were two laps fresher than his younger team-mate’s set of softs.
Russell was heard asking at one stage if the team was going to let the drivers race, but Wolff said team orders was never something that was considered.
“As a team, we always stood for free racing, and we have never done otherwise, unless a driver is mathematically not in contention any more for a championship and the other one is,” said Wolff.
“We were actually looking forward to them racing on par with the same tyre, and we discussed it this morning in the strategy meeting.”