There was some uncertainty over team radio at Mercedes when Hamilton – running on mediums after the Safety Car – caught up to the back of Russell – who was on the hards.
During the race, Russell’s response to his race engineer was broadcast, leading to speculation that he’d rejected a team order to let his teammate through – Sky Sports reported after the race there was no instruction from Mercedes to Russell.
Russell said to his engineer: “Alonso has a five second penalty here let’s fight later. I want to manage the tyres a little bit now.”
Shortly after, Russell pulled clear of Hamilton to finish comfortably fourth on-track, before being promoted to the podium after Fernando Alonso’s post-race penalty.
Clarifying what went on with Hamilton after the Safety Car, Russell told Sky: “It was an interesting race. After the Safety Car, I was on the hards, Lewis was on the mediums. So he probably had a bit more pace in the beginning, I knew my pace was coming at the end. But there was a lot of confusion because I thought Fernando had a five-second penalty.
“So I didn’t want [Lewis and I] to be fighting among each other, and we both lose out to Fernando.
“I wanted to stay within distance, manage our tyres, then have a fair battle towards the end. I’m pleased with P4, the penalty to Fernando is pretty harsh. They are the deserving podium finishers. But I’m not complaining too much.”
It was another dominant display from Red Bull, who took another 1-2 finish.
Despite a Safety Car period, Russell finished over 25s behind race winner Sergio Perez.
Assessing Red Bull’s performance in Saudi Arabia, Russell compared it to Mercedes’ domination at the start of the V6 hybrid era in 2014.
“Give credit to what Red Bull have done,” he added. “The gap to the rest of the field is the biggest since Mercedes in 2014. It’s a serious gap, everyone needs to work harder to understand how to close that gap.
“We know we didn’t make the right decisions over the winter. We have gained more performance than you would ordinarily so everything is not lost. We will still be fighting hard, we want to win races this year, we want to be in the championship hunt. But we have to be realistic, focus on ourselves, and get the fundamentals right for the future.
“We have the take the positives away from this weekend. We qualified ahead of the Ferraris and Astons. The car is capable of that, at the moment.”