If there was any tension between F1 stars George Russell and Valtteri Bottas, it was plain to see after the two collided at the Emilia Romagna GP last weekend.
Both drivers pointed the finger at the other for the nearly 300kp/h wreck, which resulted in a furious Russell remonstrating with Bottas as the Finn emerged from his wrecked Mercedes.
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Bottas didn't back down either after the race, questioning whether the Williams driver's move was necessary in the still tricky conditions, after the circuit began to dry following rain at the start of the race.
The crash brought an intriguing season sub-blot to the fore, with Russell, a Mercedes-backed driver, heavily favoured to join the championship team next season.
Whether his place at Mercedes will come at Bottas' expense or not hinges on reigning champion Lewis Hamilton's decision to remain in F1 next season.
Bottas and Russell could be teammates, or the Finnish driver could find himself looking for a new home if Mercedes opts to go with the young Brit in his place.
Russell's impressive fill-in job for Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir GP prompted heavy speculation that the pressure would be on Bottas to prove his worth, but the Imola crash left Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff unimpressed with Russell.
"George should have never launched into this manoeuvre considering that the track was drying up,” he said.
“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.”
Williams, who have an engine supply deal with Mercedes, has served as a testing ground for Russell, who backed the 23-year-old throughout his junior career.
Russell, Bottas point finger over Imola F1 chaos
The smash between Bottas, Mercedes teammate to seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton, and Williams driver Russell brought the race to a halt on Sunday with debris strewn across the asphalt.
Russell clambered out and went over to confront the Finn, who appeared to raise a finger in response.
"I asked him if he was trying to kill us both," Russell, who had been fighting for ninth place and has been seen as a contender to take Bottas's seat next year, told Sky Sports.
Television images were inconclusive as to where the blame lay, but rising star Russell felt the experienced Finn had moved over and nudged him towards the wet edge of the track — something Bottas was adamant had not been the case.
Stewards ruled it was a racing incident after hearing from both drivers.
"I was coming on Valtteri massively fast, I had the slipstream and the DRS (drag reduction system) and just as I pulled out he jolted very, very slightly to the right, which is a tactical defence that drivers in the past used to do," said Russell.
"There is a gentleman's agreement that is not what you do because it is incredibly dangerous.
"In completely dry conditions I'd have been fine but it just put me onto the wet patch and I lost it... we're going at 200mph and you need to respect the speed and the conditions," added the Briton.
"A P9 (ninth) for him is nothing but for us it's everything," said Russell, whose team have scored only one point in the last two seasons. "I'm going for the move, the move would have been absolutely easy."
Bottas told reporters he had been unable to hear what Russell had said because he was still in the car with his helmet on but denied doing anything wrong.
He said he would have defended against any driver and ridiculed a suggestion that he might have been more reluctant to let Russell go past given their potential rivalry for the Mercedes seat.
"I'm sorry, I lost my aluminium foil hat somewhere," he said. "It's quite a theory. I'm not keen to lose any positions. That was normal defending."
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