George Russell joins Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes
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Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin admits the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix was a bit of a wake-up call for the team, adding that they can’t “carry an ounce of complacency” into the final race of the season. Sunday night’s spectacle under the floodlights in Jeddah was one to be remembered for a lifetime, with two red flags, countless safety cars, and a heated on-track clash from the two title protagonists Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
The pair clipped wheels on lap 37 of the race, with the Mercedes car sustaining damage to the front wing after Verstappen had been ordered by the FIA to give Hamilton back the lead after gaining an advantage for leaving the track.
It came ahead of the red-flagged race restart, as FIA race director Michael Masi said Red Bull could forfeit pole position to drop behind Hamilton otherwise Verstappen would be penalised for overtaking the Briton off-track prior to the race being suspended.
Handed a five-second penalty from the stewards anyway, confusion continued as the Mercedes hit a slowing Red Bull from behind approaching the final corner, with Verstappen adamant he slowed down to allow Hamilton past.
Hamilton however claimed the 24-year-old had brake tested him, with both drivers summoned to the stewards after the race.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner lays into FIA after Saudi Arabian GP
They ruled that Verstappen’s “erratic” braking was the “predominant” cause of the accident and handed him a 10-second time penalty, which was effectively irrelevant as the Dutchman had enough of a lead over Bottas to keep his second place.
It means both drivers are level on points now heading into the final showdown in Abu Dhabi, and Shovlin admitted the strange nature of the race reminded Mercedes just how unpredictable this season is.
“We came in this morning expecting an eventful race but didn’t see that coming,” said Shovlin. “Firstly, well done to the team and drivers; it’s been the most challenging weekend we’ve had for a long time but great to come away with a win and both drivers on the podium.
“It was very encouraging to see how strong the car was in the race today, we were left a little deflated after qualifying having seen the pace of the Red Bull on a single lap.
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“However, it seemed that the gap shifted in our favour today and Lewis was able to easily control the gap in stint one.
“The Safety Car followed by the red flag put us on the back foot and with all the interruptions, we’d lost temperature in the tyres for each restart but in the long run, the hard tyre was the right choice for Lewis, allowing him to attack towards the end.
“Valtteri did a fantastic job to get that podium place right at the end, we selected the medium to give him better grip at the second restart but it wasn’t as strong on the long run which made that pass on the final lap even more of an achievement.
“Now our focus shifts to Abu Dhabi, today reminded us just how unpredictable the sport can be and we can’t carry an ounce of complacency into next weekend.
“But if we can get the car working as well there as we have done in the last three races then everything is possible.”
All eyes are now on the season finale in Abu Dhabi with qualifying on Saturday at 1pm GMT, followed by the race the following day at the same time.
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