Russell had “very anxious” wait to learn if Williams would release him to join Mercedes

2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

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George Russell doesn’t expected to be rewarded with a full-time Mercedes seat solely on the basis of his performance as Lewis Hamilton’s substitute this weekend.

He has taken over from Hamilton for this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix after the world champion tested positive for Covid-19.

Speaking to media in today’s FIA press conference Russell said the reality of his sudden promotion from Williams hadn’t sunk in yet. “It’s all happened so fast,” he said. “It’s been an intense 48 hours.”

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff called Russell in the early hours of Tuesday morning and told him he was their choice to replace Hamilton.

“I got a phone call from Toto at 2am on Tuesday morning. I was actually in the bathroom in the moment which was slightly awkward. I answered the phone, he said ‘George, are you in the bathroom?’, I said ‘Sorry, I am in the bathroom’.

“He said ‘Unfortunately Lewis has caught Covid, he’s doing well, he’s healthy and feels fine which is most important but we want you to drive’. I said ‘Right, OK’. Obviously a bit of a sleepless night.

“Then we made it happen throughout the following day. I had 64 phone calls on Tuesday pinging between so many different people. I’m glad we got there in the end.”

Russell was unsure whether Williams would release him from his contract to drive for the world champions.

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“I was very anxious on Tuesday waiting to find out if we could strike a deal with Williams,” he said. “I need to say a massive thank you to them for allowing me this opportunity. And here we are.”

Russell is in Hamilton’s car this weekend
He has been a member of Mercedes’ junior driver programme since 2017 and has tested for the team previously. He will partner regular Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas this weekend.

“It feels strange to be back with Mercedes,” said Russell. “Obviously I spent two years as their test and simulator driver.

“I know all of the guys which makes things a lot easier to get back into the team. I’m just being bombarded with information at the moment to learn ready for the weekend ahead.”

Russell said his target for this weekend is simply to “do my best” but predicted “it’s going to be incredibly difficult”.

“Valtteri has been pushing Lewis a huge amount over the years. I know it’s not going to be an easy task coming in.

“When you’re in the groove, you’re integrated into the team. The level I was at with Williams just having spent two years in the same car with my same engineers, same mechanics, changing suddenly there’s so many new things to learn.

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“I’ve got no expectations, no targets. Just build up to it over Friday, learn as much as I can and just do my best.”

Hamilton is widely expected to sign a deal to remain with Mercedes for the 2021 F1 season and beyond. Bottas already has a contract for next season.

However Russell doubts his performance this will weekend will make any different to Mercedes’ short-term plans for its driver line-up.

“One race doesn’t define a driver’s capabilities or the decision-making for something that’s over 12 months away,” he said. “So from my side that is not even in the back of my mind.

“I’m going to go out there, enjoy it, learn as much as I can. Because obviously I have a job to do back on my return to Williams which is to try and push that team forwards as well, to maximise that learning from Valtteri, the team, whoever.

“In terms of the future, that’ll be judged over the course of the season and what’s happened in the past as well, not just one or maybe two races.”

“From my side I think there’s no pressure,” he added. “I’m being thrown in at the last opportunity. I haven’t driven their simulator in two years. My seat is three years old. I’ve got so much information to learn and going up against Valtteri isn’t going to be easy.”

Russell is around 10 centimetres taller than Hamilton, and revealed the world champion’s cockpit felt very cramped.

“It definitely was a tight squeeze. Also my size 11 feet were a struggle so I’m having to wear a slightly smaller shoe than is ideal. So that’s slightly uncomfortable but I’m sure I can endure the pain to get this opportunity.”

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2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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14 comments on “Russell had “very anxious” wait to learn if Williams would release him to join Mercedes”

  1. Formula One gets to see a Future World Champion race the greatest racing machine built so far.
    It reflects the quality of his character. Finally justice is given a reward by allowing this great young man, so confident of his talent, his abilities, a chance to extract a moment of performance.
    This test may shake up the lineup sooner than imagined. With a solid race weekend I see changes beginning to happen. This is part of F1. The new kid shows up and drivers of Bottas quality may be looking for a new job. Even being almost as good as Lewis, Bottas has done his job by bringing titles to the team. That is his job.
    But the potential of Russell is similar to many well known drivers whose names are but part of our conversation today but got replaced by the young anyway. It has happened many many times.
    So the future of Mercedes will slip into Russell’s hands, as the great one will finally move on to his own future, outside of the seat.
    Bottas name will remain in the storyline of F1 and success. But Russell may become the next big name in Grand Prix Racing.

    1. The new kid shows up and drivers of Bottas quality may be looking for a new job.

      Mercedes is not a mid field team where both the drivers hauling in points is critical. Bottas is bringing in just enough to maintain dominance and is keeping the team dynamics peaceful. So, unless Hamilton retires or Mercs lose their WCC because Bottas gets even worse, I don’t see how Russell will get a spot in a Mercedes.

  2. One race doesn’t define a driver’s capabilities or the decision-making for something that’s over 12 months away,” he said. “So from my side that is not even in the back of my mind.

    Amen. Many are simplistically looking to use this one race to define/judge Bottas, Russell..and even Hamilton. These people need to get a grip and get some perspective.

    1. Spot on mate.

    2. Yep indeed @amam, it sure is a good opportunity to show he’s good, and interesting to see how he stacks up, but it won’t suddenly put him in that car for next season. Of course, he’s good at saying the right things, and showing it too, so again, mission to show he’s up to it whenever they give him the opportunity.

      Won’t want to shunt Bottas off either, I’d reckon, it will be about the team, at least officially for him.

    3. Agree. Also think that when George says it’s not even in the back of his mind he is either deceiving us or himself. More power to him though – I hope he does really well, puts Valtteri on notice, and goes back to Williams fired up and more eager than ever to chase success.

  3. Russell is the second most overrated driver in the paddock behind Sainz. I don’t see much evidence that he is as good as sky sport and people on this website are saying.

    1. OverrateD? I think George did show a lot in his earlier formats and he was decent in online racing i rather think he is underrated.

  4. We all thought that Russell has big shoes to fill, however it’s already proven wrong…

    1. @hunocsi Thanks mate, good one :)

  5. I was thinking about the height difference between russell and Hamilton when I saw some pictures of him trying out the cockpit. Russell is noticeably taller, must be quite the squeeze for him.
    Hamilton and bottas are both quite diminutive in size, so the car was probably designed from the start with that kind of stature. Maybe not a lot adjustments can be done

    1. The cockpit has a certain standard (the one who survive huge crashes) and that is that same as by Willems. So steering, pedals and other things inside the cockpit has to change. That is easy because they knew his testing data and they had several days to adjust those.

  6. Listeners to Beyond the Grid will know that Russel seems to receive all his Mercedes-related phone calls in the bathroom!

  7. Why would Williams say no to a driver call from the Real F1?
    If they can do anything to chisel their relation with Mercedes, they’ll do it.
    And it’s not that Russel is needed over at Williams to defend a WCC/WDC points position.

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