George Russell really made a name for himself when he substituted for Mercedes during the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. The young British driver was released by Williams to deputise for Hamilton who had received a positive Covid test and immediately George proved he was quick by qualifying in second place, losing out on pole by just 26 milliseconds to his team mate Valtteri Bottas.
With both Mercedes on the front row, Russell made a lightning start and overtook Bottas into the first corner and led the race until 20 laps to go. But at his pit stop Mercedes fitted Bottas front tyres to George’s car, which is against FIA regulations, causing him to pity again the following lap to correct the error.
Russell substitutes for Hamilton
Russell then recovered to second place and was hunting down race leader Sergio Perez before suffering a slow puncture and had to pit for tyres again. George finished in ninth but scored his first ever F1 world championship points with another for the fastest lap.
Expectations were raises that Russell in 2021 would replace Bottas who was on a perpetual one year rolling contract. However, some believe due to pressure from Hamilton, Mercedes retained Valtteri for one more season.
When Russell did get the call from the world champion team, he immediately demonstrated he was the real deal. He won Mercedes only race in 2022 and became only the third driver in sixteen years to beat Hamilton over a full season.
2023 was full of expectation for George and whilst beating Hamilton to fourth place in the second round of the year, next time out in Australia he suffered a mechanical error while again leading Lewis on lap 18 and was forced to retire his car.
Russell claims gap to Lewis should be less
Hamilton came home second and it seemed the die was cast for the year.
George is now 75 points behind his team mate following a disaster in Singapore which saw him throw away 15 points by crashing out from P3 with one lap remaining. He has scored just one podium this year win 15 races but was defiant when speaking to assembled media in Japan.
George claims he has lost “over 60 points” this season due to strategy errors, mechanical issues and driving mistakes.
“best ever” performance
“In terms of pure performance, I feel that this season has been my best ever, but I reckon there’s over 60 points that we’ve lost this season and for a number of different reasons,” said Russell.
“Australia, you know, we have the shot at a minimum a podium [before he retired with an engine failure], the 18 points there we had [in] Zandvoort with the rain, there’s another podium that was gone.
“The podium last week [Singapore] was obviously driver error and we had in Canada obviously, again, another mistake from my side, another 10 points lost there, Monaco [headed down an escape road from third] a few points lost as well and there’s been many, many races where we’ve lost points.”
Russell ponders whether his mentality to racing was affected early in the season by the team’s early form. His first podium came in round 7 in Barcelona, though he was P3 behind team mate Lewis Hamilton in second.
Russell blames loss of hope
“When I put that in contrast to last year, I think we were in the top five in 19 of 22 races and we just kept on collecting those points,” he continued. “So, you know, I’ve got an objective and target this year which is to secure P2 in the championship for the team.
“But I think it was, it was quite clear this year from the beginning that we weren’t going to be fighting for a championship. And I don’t know if that’s had an impact on my mentality at all or not.
“But you know, I can assure you once we’re in the position to fight again for a championship, I’m sure I’ll be back to the ways I know how to fight for a championship.”
However George may find that over the winter Mercedes struggle to close the enormous gap they are suffering to Red Bull and as Hamilton recently observed it will require the next “six months to be the greatest six months of development that we’ve [Mercedes] ever had.”
George relives Singapore
Whether Mercedes can realistically fight for a championship next season looks a long shot a present.
Russell sought to rationalise his inexplicable error in Singapore blaming the lap after lap he was close behind Lando Norris.
“It was definitely being stuck behind Lando to be honest, that’s the thing I regret most from the race.
“I thought I did a good job with that attack, but not an exceptional job.” George had pitted for fresh rubber and chased down Sainz and Norris who were over 215 seconds ahead when he returned to the circuit.
Russell wore out tyres
Mercedes pitted Lewis atv the same time and he was behind Russell all the way during the chase. Yet it seemed when the two silver arrows arrived upon the leaders, it was Hamilton who had more grip remaining than his team mate ahead.
“You know, it’s these very small differences in a split moment that can totally change the outcome. Um, you know, as I said, we’re, we’re racing against the best drivers in the world. We’re all competing.
“Carlos did a great job to you know, give Lando DRS over the rest. I don’t think he probably had much more pace anyway and that really helped him to secure that victory and, you know.
“Potentially I potentially pushed a little bit too hard to catch them. Whereas actually maybe if I took it a little bit easier I’d have still caught them and had the tyres in a better window by the time I arrived.
Hamilton given preferential treatment
“So, you know, it’s so easy in hindsight but I’m glad I’m glad we went for it. It would have been painful just to sit there and P2 within the DRS range for the whole race not doing anything,” George concluded.
Next time out in Japan it was Russell who was frustrated as he mounted a number of attacks on his team mate only to be run off the circuit. Mercedes switched the pit stop strategy of their cars to separate them on track which resulted in Russell on old tyres being ordered to give way to Lewis in the closing laps.
Whether Red Bull are dominant again in 2024 or not, the Russell/Hamilton inter team battle will be one to watch as the young gun takes on the old hand who is almost now two years since his last race victory.