There’s been a lot of talk about where he should go; Mercedes, Williams, even Red Bull could throw their hat in the ring. Who is George Russell, and why has he got everyone talking?
At 6’1”, the British racing driver cuts a remarkable figure among the current batch of F1 drivers. It is not just his height that sets him apart. He is known for marching into Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff’s office, CV in hand, and telling him he’d be a Mercedes champion in years to come. Claire Williams fondly recalls Russell’s tenacity in an interview with Nico Rosberg, describing how he brought a powerpoint presentation to the Williams HQ, listing why he should drive for them.
Like so many F1 drivers, Russell started out in karting at the age of seven. The pattern is clear; he won it all, and he won it young. By 2009, only three years after stepping foot in a kart, he was MSA British Champion and the British Open Champion. He dominated the CIK-FIA European Championship for two years, then came in 19th in the CIK-FIA World Championship.
In 2014, he moved into single seaters, winning the BRDC Formula 4 Championship. He also became the youngest-ever winner of the highly prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award worth £100,000. A year later, he was selected as the youngest-ever recruit to the BRDC SuperStars programme. It was around this time he developed a reputation for having the gold standard of a work ethic, in fact, drivers more junior than him were advised to emulate Russell.
In 2017, Russell won the GP3 Series with ART Grand Prix in his rookie season. It was at this point he joined Mercedes-AMG Petronas as part of their junior driver programme, although he made his F1 practice debut with Force India at the Brazilian GP. Perhaps his most impressive result to date came in the 2018 season of F2. Russell won this convincingly, again in his rookie year, 68 points clear of the next competitor, Lando Norris. Very few drivers win F2 (or GP2 as was its previous incarnation) in their rookie season, those who have include Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc.
With an impressive junior career, and all the signs pointing in the right direction, Russell signed with the Williams F1 team for the 2019 season. His first season showed moments of promise. He came in 12th at the Brazilian GP, but unfortunately he was the only driver not to score a single point by the season’s end, mainly due to the Williams being the slowest car on the grid.
The 2020 season allowed Russell to showcase more of his raw potential, although he was plagued with poor luck. He consistently outqualified his teammate, Nicolas Latifi, developing the nickname ‘Mr. Saturday’ for his qualifying performances. His highest finish in a Williams car was P11.
Memorably, at the 2020 Sakhir GP, he stood in for fellow Brit Lewis Hamilton after he tested positive for Covid. Russell overtook Bottas to lead the race for the first 67 laps, until a pitting error sent him back down the grid. He worked his way back up, but a slow puncture with ten laps remaining forced him to pit yet again. He finished ninth, taking his first championship points and the fastest lap. His performance that weekend was met with widespread praise.
This year, Russell has shown yet again more improvement. He has reached Q2 at all GPs so far, even reaching Q3 at the Austrian GP. Championship points in a Williams car have remained elusive for driver 63, but his results are promising. He achieved an impressive P12 at Paul Ricard, without any cars retiring in front or behind, and P11 at the Austrian GP.
This year, he has also taken on the role of director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, following Romain Grosjean’s retirement from F1. Outside of racing, he has been an outspoken advocate for mental health, describing how he sought professional help after the disappointment of the Sakhir GP.
There has been a whirlwind of rumour regarding George Russell’s future in F1. He is guaranteed a seat for next year no matter what, Williams have remarked that they would love to keep him. The tension comes in the form of the Mercedes second seat. Lewis Hamilton is locked in until 2023, if not beyond. Valterri Bottas has made a number of mistakes this season which signal his Mercedes days could be up. Bottas has done an excellent job over the last few years supporting Hamilton, bringing in his fair share of points to secure the Constructor’s Championship consecutively for Mercedes. He has also provided the stability the team needed after the departure of Rosberg. Mercedes are now looking to the future. Red Bull, and specifically Verstappen, contend a real threat to their dominance. The team must secure a driver who can lead them once Hamilton retires, and many believe that person could be Russell.
Mercedes have repeated that any decision on the second seat will be made later in the season. Russell also stated in a recent interview that no contract has been signed for any team on his behalf.
If there is one thing to be taken from Russell’s career so far, it is that he does not give up. He has taken a massive role in the development and improvement of Williams over the last two years, working closely with engineers both on track and back at the factory. He remains a remarkable figure in motorsport, with or without points, and one we should keep an eye out for, as he may just be World Champion material.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
One of Ellie’s earliest memories growing up is watching formula 1 on television with her Dad. She recently graduated the University of Manchester studying Latin and English Literature. Currently, she is interning full time for a major British news publication as a junior editor. Ellie is particularly interested in the marketing and management side of motorsports. She also spends her time singing in choirs and visiting the latest London art exhibitions! You can find her on twitter at @zephyrellie.
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