Russell was seventh early in the Japanese GP when racing resumed after a lengthy red flag. The peloton first rolled behind the Safety Car , before it had finally relaunched.
As the regulations require extreme rain tires to be used on starts with the safety car, all the drivers wore the blue Pirellis , but they quickly realized that the conditions were right to install the green ones, the intermediate rain ones .
They did so at the end of lap 7, and while Alpine did not want to enter Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon at the same time because they were fourth and sixth, Mercedes did risk a double pitstop. Those two maneuvers allowed Alonso to lead the race by staying one more lap on the track, and in turn the abundant traffic in the pitlane meant that, after the stops, Russell fell from seventh to 13th.
The Englishman soon complained about this tactic on the radio, and the team has admitted that the pilot had asked to stay out and that they made the wrong decision.
This was stated by Andrew Shovlin , Mercedes chief track engineer, in the analysis of the Suzuka race: “We have reviewed all the times of that action, and we have come to the conclusion that no, it was not the right decision”.
“We should have done what George asked for, which was to go one more lap with clean air ahead.”
The team explains that they decided to pit stop as soon as possible because the intermediates were better, and taking an extra lap with the extreme wet ones would have hurt him: “We had seen that the intermediates were much faster, so with the wet ones he would have lost time on track”.
“But the problem was that George and Lewis were too close for us to make the pit stop without losing some time and that time ultimately cost George position with Tsunoda and possibly even Lando.”
In addition to the two of them, Russell lost place with those who had stopped before (Guanyu Zhou, Nicholas Latifi and Sebastian Vettel), as well as Mick Schumacher who stayed on the track with the rain looking for the miracle.
“So it was a bit more of a challenge for George to have to overtake those cars to try and find some clean air,” Shovlin concluded.
In the end, George Russell would finish eighth, finding himself overtaken by Alonso when the Spaniard set up new intermediates in the closing laps. With this result, Russell gets some air in the drivers’ world championship, where he is fourth and takes five points from Carlos Sainz, who abandoned in Japan.
In turn, there are four races left and he takes 27 points from his teammate Lewis Hamilton.