It was the most talked about incident of an action-packed Formula 1 race at Imola and sparked a war of words, but just how costly could Valtteri Bottas and George Russell’s collision end up being for Mercedes?

The pair came together on the approach to the Tamburello chicane as they fought for ninth position at mid-distance in Sunday’s action-packed Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. 

Russell appeared to put a wheel on the grass as he pulled out to make a move on Bottas’ Mercedes, before losing control and spearing into the side of the Finn, sending both drivers off into not one but two violent impacts with the barriers. 

Thankfully, both drivers emerged the scene of the huge high-speed crash unscathed but they were left fuming with each other. 

Who was to blame? 

In the initial aftermath, Russell stormed over to Bottas’ car to vent his feelings. Bottas greeted him with an unfavourable gesticulation, to which Russell responded by tapping the Finn on his crash helmet. 

Bottas insisted he races with respect as he rejected Russell’s accusations which Mercedes F1 team boss Toto Wolff also dismissed as “bullshit”. In a later media session Russell appeared to soften his stance on the matter having viewed new footage of the accident, admitting Bottas was “probably not” at fault. 

“It takes two to tango,” Wolff told Sky after the race. “Maybe it’s not a 50-50, maybe it’s a 60-40 but I wouldn’t know in which direction. 

“I keep teasing him [Russell], I said if he does a good job he can be in a Mercedes, if not we are doing Renault Clio Cup. And today we are closer to the Renault Clio Cup.”

Speaking in his post-race column, F1 chief Ross Brawn shared how he viewed the situation, adding: “I’m sure both drivers will analyse the incident and learn from it but it did look like Valtteri drifted across and left George nowhere to go.”

The stewards ultimately considered the crash to be a racing incident, opting to take no further action. 

Will Russell’s relationship with Mercedes be damaged? 

With Russell vying to stake a claim to land one of the Mercedes seats next year with his Williams contract coming to an end and the reigning world champions yet to sign a driver for 2021, Sunday was far from his finest moment. 

“I think George wanted to get into the seat too quickly there,” Wolff quipped when discussing the accident post-race. 

Russell is eager to impress and was convinced “the move was absolutely on” as he looked to strengthen his mission to secure his first points for Williams. In the end, he came away from Imola rueing a missed opportunity for the second year running. 

Wolff made it clear the “whole situation should have never happened” and concluded that Russell still has “lots to learn” in F1. 

“George should have never launched into this manoeuvre considering that the track was drying up,” he explained.

“It meant taking risks, and the other car is a Mercedes in front of him. And in any driver’s development, for a young driver, you must never lose this global perspective.

“So yeah, lots to learn for him, I guess.”

Asked if Russell should have handled the situation differently given he was racing a Mercedes, Wolff replied: “Yes. You need to see that there is a Mercedes and it’s wet. There is a certain risk to overtake. And the odds are against him anyway when the track is drying up.

“Now, I don’t want him to try to prove anything to us, because one thing I can say knowing Valtteri since five years [at Mercedes], he is not trying to prove anything.”

But Russell insisted the crash is “not going to harm my relationship with Mercedes at all”, adding: “I’ve already spoken with them, and there’s understanding from both sides.” 

After the dust had settled and emotions had calmed, Russell apologised to Bottas on Monday for his actions and acknowledged he “should have handled the whole situation better”.

As long as there is no repeat in the future, one isolated incident shouldn't harm Russell, who is highly thought of at Mercedes. 

Bottas doing himself no favours 

The accident somewhat overshadowed what was already a terrible weekend for Bottas, who is hardly covering himself in glory in his bid to retain his seat at Mercedes for 2022. 

Bottas struggled for pace when it mattered most in qualifying, leading to him lining up only eighth on the grid. He struggled with tyre warm-up throughout the weekend, something not helped by changing conditions and cool temperatures on Sunday. 

The Finn’s weekend continued to unravel in the race as he dropped two positions and fell to 10th early on, before being unable to make an impression on the race as he made slow progress up the order. 

Having taken an age to get past Lance Stroll, Bottas was being caught by Russell before the pair collided. Getting wiped out in the collision ultimately saved Bottas the embarrassment of potentially finishing the race behind a Williams on merit.

Bottas failed to feature in the lead battle in Bahrain and already faces a 28-point deficit to teammate Lewis Hamilton in the world championship after just two rounds.

Costlier long-term implications 

Perhaps more worrying for Mercedes will be the damage sustained to Bottas’ car, with Wolff fearing that the costs incurred could impact the team’s upgrades and planned development.

Wolff warned that a potential write-off for one of their cars could spell disaster for its development plans amid the new financial regulations introduced for the 2021 season. 

“The whole situation is absolutely not amusing for us, to be honest,” Wolff said. “It’s quite a big shunt. Our car is almost a write-off, in a cost-cap environment that is certainly not what we needed and it’s probably going to limit upgrades that we’re able to do.

“We are very stretched on cost cap and what we always feared is a total write-off of a car. This one is not going to be a total write-off, but almost, and that is not something we really wanted.”

With Mercedes believing it has no strengths over Red Bull this year, any development gains will be crucial with fine margins currently separating F1’s top two teams in what is pointing towards being a titanic season-long title fight.