George Russell has been showing his speed since he first joined Formula 1 even though Williams struggled a lot throughout the last years, and he proved that he could be a future champion.
Russell was capable of performing extremely well, especially in qualifying, even though the cars he was driving were not the best on the grid. He is part of the Williams team, which is not in the best period of its history, but the Briton managed to bring the car to its limits many times.
A great opportunity was presented to him last season, at the Sakhir GP, where Mercedes driver, Lewis Hamilton, could not race because he had tested positive for Covid-19. Due to that, Russell was chosen by the Silver Arrows to replace the seven-time world champion.
Already at the start of the weekend, George showed everyone that he was very close to Valtteri Bottas, actually even faster. On Saturday, he finished behind his teammate, but the race was a different story. The Briton was incredibly quick, and he was ahead of Bottas. Russell had the pace to win the race, but luck did not assist him that day. He had a problem during a pit stop, and while e was trying to recover, he had a puncture. That meant that his hopes of scoring his first victory in the pinnacle of motorsport faded away.
However, the class that he has been showing so far, kind of disappeared last Sunday, during the Imola GP. Russell was on slick tires, and there were still some parts of the track that were wet. While the British driver was trying to overtake Valtteri Bottas (the driver who might risk being replaced by George), the two collided.
Right after the incident, Russell was furious with his rival, and he hit him on the helmet while Bottas showed him the middle finger. Plus, George also said that, in his opinion, Bottas would have behaved differently if it was another driver who was trying to overtake him. It is known that between the two, there might be some tension due to the rumors stating that the Williams driver might replace Valtteri.
Mercedes CEO, Toto Wolff, also spent some words about the incident, and he believes that Russell made a mistake and he should not have been fighting so aggressively with Bottas.
Russell told Racefans.net that what he did in Sakhir last season showed his real skills: “I believe I’m at a level that I’m capable of winning races,” says the 23-year-old. “But I don’t believe I’m at my maximum potential, and I think I’ve got a long way to go. There’s a lot for me to improve, and there’s a lot more I can bring to the table.
“But equally, I think I’m in the right machinery. I’d like to think I broke through that last year.”
Russell also explained how performing at high levels is way more difficult, while driving for Williams involves less pressure.
“The joys of success are even greater, and the downs of the disappointment are even greater, much deeper. That is probably the biggest thing I took away from that. (…) So to conclude, the biggest thing I learned was things aren’t going to get psychologically easier fighting at the front, if anything, it’ll get harder.”
In the heat of the moment, Russell’s reaction was not the one someone would expect from him. He recognized he made a mistake, and he apologized to the team, the fans, and Bottas for what he did after the crash.
Some people might think that what he posted was not coming from him, but he confirmed that “anything that I put out there [social media] is all authentic.”
Russell is a very professional driver, for example, when he crashed out of the race during the safety car period last year in Imola, he wrote a letter to the team because he wanted to apologize. All these things come from himself, not from someone who forces him to do so, and George also explained it to Racefans.net.
“I’ve never had a PR agency,” says Russell. “I’ve never had any of that, to be honest.
“I think it just comes from being mentored correctly by the people around me and understanding what will get the most out of myself and the most out of my team and all of us.
“I understood from the beginning that it takes more than just doing the business on the track. There’s so much more that goes with it and that’s everything behind the scenes to everything in front of the camera. You’ve got to excel at everything you do to be there because at the end of the day there are only 20 drivers, and it’s a ruthless sport.”
That way of thinking and doing things also explains why Russell replaced Romain Grosjean in the role of director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association.
“I knew that Romain was stepping down,” he explains. “I’d been in a lot of contact with [chairman] Alex Wurz, and I called him one day, and I said ‘listen, I’d be interested in stepping up into that position, what do you think?’ He said: I think you’d be great at it and go for it, put your name forward.”
Asked what else the GPDA should concern itself with, Russell said: “Improving racing. Good races attract more fans.”
“I equally just want to help the sport grow, want to improve,” he explains. “Help the sport grow.
“The drivers’ input is a key one. Ultimately, we’re in a unique position that there’s only 20 of us driving the cars, and we’re in a slightly different position to the other 2,000 people that go around the F1 circus, whether it’s about safety or circuit improvement or whatever it may be, the whole range of things.
“The grid procedures we’re doing with the We Race As One and the certain gestures people are doing, trying to bring everybody together because we are a united force. And to be honest, even over my three years in F1, I have noticed the growth of how united we are, especially last year. It’s after almost every drivers’ meeting, all the drivers stay on together just the 20 of us, to talk about certain issues.”
Speaking of the future, Russell believes that Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen will be his two main rivals.
“Max in this past year and a half, two years, has come into another level, to be honest. I think that has been a factor of firstly being an incredible driver, but being in the same team, just that consistency is something that just naturally comes along.
“Charles is only in his third season now with Ferrari, I still think it takes a bit of time for all of these small updates to be directed in a way that will suit you personally as a driver. But they’re both incredible drivers and they’re going to be able to top of this for the coming 10 years.”
“So I look forward to that challenge whether that’s fighting against them in different cars or whether that’s fighting against each other as teammates.”
George also admitted that he did not think whether Mercedes will promote him or not in the future, but he is sure the team will choose the best option for his career.
“Mercedes have always put their faith in me, and everything’s been on course. They signed me in 2016, put me in GP3, and the goal was to win it. Then it was F2, the goal was to win it, and you’ll be in F1. And the deal at the time was a three-year deal. We’re in our third season now.
“What will happen for next year? Time will only tell, but they’ve had my back and faith in me since day one, and I continue to have my faith in them, that they’ll give me the best opportunity for me to succeed in the future.”
The British driver said that last year in Bahrain, even though he performed well, he was not at his limit since he did not know the car and he was not comfortable while driving it.
“I thought that was the absolute maximum potential given the experience, but nowhere near the potential what could have been, had that been a full season.”
Russell also said that all the challenges he faced in the past helped him in Sakhir and will surely help him in the future.
“I think in life, if you have a smooth run, when you get to the top, as I said about Bahrain, you’re always going to have massive disappointments. And if you don’t know how to deal with them, that’s going to brew up inside of you, eat you up and affect your performance.
“Moments for me like last year in Imola, crashing, or in my junior career, I had a tough season in F3 2015 and karting in 2013. They were my… 2013 and 2015 were my two toughest years of motorsport and that has helped me to develop.
“That race in Bahrain with Mercedes was an incredibly difficult pill to swallow, but I’m over it now, and I’m past it and through it. I think that had I had a different upbringing and a different career path, it would probably still be here haunting me today.”