NOTStill strapped for confidence, George Russell revealed after his maiden Formula 1 win at the Brazilian Grand Prix last week that he thinks it’s just about getting everything right. In his words, he expected to “do his thing, get into the groove.” Which is a disarmingly self-controlling description of what was a huge ride at Interlagos.
He made it look almost effortless, but Russell isn’t at Mercedes, one of F1’s top teams, by accident and he didn’t achieve this victory through anything other than a relentless commitment that named him as a potential future world champion.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s season finale, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, his victory still resonated. “I’m just very proud of the achievement,” he said. “It’s something I’ve worked for all my life, something you dream of when you were a kid and my years in Formula 1, you dream of that moment.”
The victory was so accomplished that Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff agreed Russell deserved to be promoted even sooner after his F1 apprenticeship at Williams. “I guess at Williams he was the best schoolboy we could have had, maybe a year too old,” he said.
The 24-year-old from King’s Lynn would no doubt have jumped at such a chance, especially given the baptism of fire he has experienced this season after joining Mercedes. It’s been a brutal climb to the front of the grid, struggling with a car that’s out of rhythm, for a long time a beast to drive, suffering from porpoises and bouncing enough to shake the fills.
His attitude, defined by rigorous positivity, has been crucial in supporting him throughout the year, so when Mercedes finally upgraded the W13 in Brazil, he was ready to enjoy it, as he did. told the Guardian several weeks ago as he reflected on what he could achieve in the final races of the season.
“You just have to seize your opportunities, nothing is ever guaranteed,” he said. “You have to try from every difficult situation to turn it into a positive. You can’t sit around sulking that you’re not winning. You have to see each race as an opportunity to learn and grow. If you can’t fight for wins, be there to improve yourself and the team.
It’s the mindset of a wiser, more experienced rider that paid off in Brazil. Russell led from the post
yet it was far from simple. He had to be fast, work his tires well, hold on through two safety car restarts and face a concerted attack from team-mate, seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, in the closing laps.
Few were surprised. Russell had shown such control when he replaced Mercedes for a Covid-stricken Hamilton at the Sakhir GP last year. He would surely have won there had it not been for an error in the pits and a puncture. There were tears in Bahrain as he crumbled to the ground in disappointment, but that experience and Mercedes’ struggles this year are lessons from a crucible he embraced.
“Winning in some way is easy, because everyone is happy, you party on Sunday night, your emotions aren’t tested when you succeed,” he said. “Nobody needs a lesson in how to drink a glass of champagne or how to party, but when you have a really tough weekend and the whole team has made such an effort, not to get result in the end, we think and we have to dig deeper than ever.
Always a highly regarded figure, it is instructive that he went to Wolff for career advice aged 16 and gave a PowerPoint presentation explaining why he thought he could drive for Mercedes. After being signed up as a Mercedes junior, he was tasked by Wolff with proving himself by winning GP3 and F2. He did so in his rookie season of each in 2017 and 2018.
Placed at Williams in 2019, he apprenticed in a mired car at the back of the grid but consistently outperformed there. The fact that he has handled Mercedes’ problems so well this season is surely the result of those hard efforts at Williams.
Since then, he has demonstrated serenity and empathy with his teammates, especially after a difficult race in Singapore, where Mercedes believed a victory was possible, but which became a weekend to forget for Russell. A handling problem in qualifying left him 11e on the grid and he then started from the pit lane as Mercedes opted to take a new engine, from which he was only able to recover at 14e. It was a bitter disappointment, but Russell generally believed that adversity only strengthened the bonds with his team.
“It was the first weekend that I hugged every member of the team after the race,” he said. “Everyone was so deflated by the way it turned out. We all needed an elevator.
There’s already a sense that Russell is honing his skills. As with Hamilton, the natural talent is clear but he hones every aspect of his character. Indeed, in a sport where mental toughness is vital, Russell is happy to admit that he nurtures psychological well-being the same way he nurtures his physical health.
“On a professional level, I have a psychologist I talk to here and there, whenever I need to,” he said. “I think it’s important to speak to a professional if you have something weighing you down.”
This demonstrates its endearing qualities of simplicity. Much has been made of the struggles faced by Mercedes drivers this year, but Russell is that rare, Hamilton-like breed who is more than aware of the bigger picture outside of the F1 bubble.
“People say I’m going through a tough time, but I’m traveling the world driving an F1 car for a team like Mercedes,” he said. “I’m not happy to finish second, third, fourth or fifth, I want to win, I want to fight for a championship but the fact is that I’m not going through a difficult period.
Last weekend Russell got a taste of quality and the prospect of another promising stage was raised during testing in Abu Dhabi, with Mercedes finishing one-two in the first session and Russell four tenths of Max Verstappen in the second. .
When the flag drops in Abu Dhabi, he can feel a real sense of satisfaction in the end of the season after signaling how great he will be with the right car under him. Indeed, the new F1 winner expects his groove to be even more effective in the years to come.
“There is room for improvement, I think,” he said. “I always feel like I have a lot more in my locker and that gives me confidence for the future.”
. Positive George Russell still eager improve after first win Grand Prix Formula