2020 F1 driver rankings #9: George Russell

2020 F1 season review

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Just how good is the driver who is best-placed to take over from Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes one day?

The 2020 season offered a fascinating new pointer when George Russell had the opportunity to drive Hamilton’s car as a substitute for a single race weekend. In what was surely the most closely scrutinised single race performance of the season, Russell gave the team’s other regular driver, Valtteri Bottas, a serious fright.

Driving an unfamiliar and ill-fitting car, Russell came within a few hundredths of a second of out-qualifying Bottas. In the race he gave a superb account of himself, passing his team mate immediately after the start and leading confidently until misfortune intervened – twice. Ninth place, after a pit stop problem and a puncture, was far less than Russell’s efforts deserved.

On the strength of that effort alone it would be tempting to rank him ahead of Bottas. Plus, his qualifying performances were consistently excellent – that one-off appearance at Mercedes was the only time all year he was beaten by a team mate.

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In his usual car, Russell enjoyed the largest one-lap performance advantage over his team mate of any driver. His Williams reached Q2 more often than not, while newcomer Nicholas Latifi only progressed beyond the first round once.

George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Russell put Bottas in the shade in one-off Mercedes outing
Russell collected the first points of his career in his one-off appearance at Mercedes, but it’s hard to shake the impression that he should have bagged a point for Williams too. Indeed, Latifi bagged more 11th-place finishes than him, though as ever the team’s uncompetitiveness meant these finishing positions were strongly influenced by the fortune of others.

Even so, there were notable errors of inexperience on Russell’s part. A promising start in the Styrian Grand Prix was spoiled when he went off at turn six three laps in. He hit the pit wall on his reconnaissance lap in Turkey. Most costly of all was his crash during a Safety Car period at Imola – a race Latifi ended just a second outside of the points. Russell was so mortified by the error he composed a letter of apology to his team.

George Russell

Beat team mate in qualifying16/17
Beat team mate in race8/11
Races finished13/17
Laps spent ahead of team mate632/833
Qualifying margin-0.52s

Although he qualified well, starts were a regular weakness. This was likely at least in part car-related (Russell got away well enough when he drove the Mercedes) and while Latifi’s getaways tended to be better, his lower qualifying positions meant he had far less to lose.

Other potential points finishes went begging for reasons outside of Russell’s control, such as at the Nurbugring, where Kimi Raikkonen took him out. He was blamelessly caught up in a crash involving the other Alfa Romeo driver at Spa.

His Sakhir Grand Prix performance was undoubtedly the highlight of his season, however, and one which should give him confidence to expect he will get the chance to drive for a top team one day. His second season in F1 left many eager to see what he can do given a full season in a competitive car.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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65 comments on “2020 F1 driver rankings #9: George Russell”

  1. Yeah, I think I would rate Norris slightly ahead of Russel this year. Russel did a great job as a second year driver. And the way he got into that Mercedes and rocked was amazing. But he did make a few mistakes, while Norris had no mistakes that were as costly.

    1. @bascb
      Agree. If Russell hadn’t binned a points finish by crashing out by his own mistake, I would have rated him higher than Norris. But for now I’d put Russell at #9 and Norris at #8.. and Bottas at #10

  2. This one is going to get a lot of criticism, but we can’t take everything from one race. He made one bigger mistake than many drivers this season and overall hasn’t been able to prove that much at williams. And as I keep mentioning, his starts are still one of his main weaknesses. Given who he is up against, i think 9th is about right, but I feel prepared for people going crazy with anger about how he can be behind Bottas. His mistakes mentioned in the article seem to be very much forgotten by many.

    1. @thegianthogweed
      I understand your point. George’s mistakes definitely cost Willliams some points this season and without them they could’ve finished higher up in the WCC (maybe even as high up as P8). But at the same time, he dragged his car up to places were it didn’t really belong in the first place and without him Williams wouldn’t have even been in a position to be able to score points.
      I wouldn’t have put him much higher, maybe just a place in P8, but ahead of Bottas.
      The reason I’d put George ahead of Valtteri is the fact that the Finn was never really able to outrace his teammate (as impressive as Lewis is). He only finished ahead of Lewis, when the Brit had penalties/issues (except Abu Dhabi). The race at Istanbul just showed the differences in class between the two Mercedes drivers. While Valtteri was just sliding all over the place, Lewis won the race comfortably and put a lap on his teammate. IMO Bottas didn’t do any better than Ocon, but is still much higher up in the rankings than him. That’s the real issue I have, not George Russell being too low (the more I think about it, the more I think P9 is quite accurate for him).

    2. Well said @thegianthogweed. He did One Superb race in Bahrain but also made A Huge mistake in Imola. I think those count as one mediocre race.

  3. Like several drivers who’ve already been ranked, I see absolutely no justification to put Russell behind Bottas.

    1. Yep, same here.

      The seriousness of the safety car crash is greatly exaggerated. Races get ruined under safety car. Normally by strategy, but sometimes by the driver. Bottas spun under safety car a few years ago. Hamilton’s safety car problems are numerous, including an error this season that cost him many more points than the one or two Russell missed.

      More importantly, we should recognize that these ratings are biased towards drivers with better cars. it is just hard to judge a driver who’s best performance will only lift them above one or two other cars, which are often driven by less capable drivers. Therefore when someone like Russell gets a chance and distinguishes themselves it should count for more. Hence I would rate him above Bottas, and probably above Gastly too.

      1. I can’t understand why people are using that SC crash as evidence Russell isn’t ready for the Mercedes seat – was Hamilton crashing in the pit lane in 2008 evidence he got the McLaren seat too soon? His WDC suggests not. And in terms of this season, was that crash worse than Bottas’ entire Turkish GP?

        In complete agreement about the car playing a part in the rankings too – obviously Bottas’ two wins catch the eye more than Russell’s 9th place, but Bottas spent most of the season demonstratively not getting the most out of the Mercedes – can we really say that about Russell and the Williams?

        1. @kevinc well, as noted by others, Latifi wasn’t that far behind Russell in quite a few races this season, yet he was ranked lowest on the grid (with many others suggesting that was fair). Does that then suggest that Latifi should be revised upwards, or that Russell should have had a larger gap over him than he actually did?

      2. Crashing out and retiring is totally different to spinning or having a light crash. Hamilton also crashed in Germany during the safety car in 2019, but Nothing to me compared to actually crashing out the race and retiring. If you are going fast enough to cause that much damage, you are not driving safely. Russel’s mistake was one of the biggest and most clumsy of any driver, so it understandably can be against him. Grosjean got so much criticism for crashing during the safety car in Baku 2018 and then the breaking his front wing in the pit lane (and this was practice!). This non stop got mentioned and brought up. Russell given his hype should have these same occurrences (except one of them in the race which is worse taken into account.

        russell has had plenty of good performances, but given how good many say he is, Latifi really wasn’t that far off him in quite a lot of races. And latifi also quite regularly oulaunched him off the line which was the same with Kubica last year 11 out of 19 occasions! I feel some don’t watch the back of the grid carefully enough. Had Russell been witha top team, his starts will have cost him more than at williams. Over the past 2 years, Russell has had by far the most poor starts of any driver. Probably around a third of his races. And he made it clear he needs to improve on this.

        Here below is a comparison of the distance between him and Latifi in the races.

        styria – Russel by 3 seconds

        hungary – Russell ahead and Latifi behind the lead driver by 3 laps. Can’t deny this was a terrible result by Latifi.

        Britain – Russel by 2 seconds

        20th anniversary – Russel ahead by 0.3. I honestly think there was a team order this race. I think Latifi looked the quicker of the two for the last few laps and could have got by

        Spain Russell by 8 seconds

        Italy Russell by 4 seconds

        Russia Latifi by 32 seconds

        Portugal Russell by 27 seconds

        Bahrain Russell by 9 seconds before the safety car at the end.

        I know we can’t just base things on statistics, but most of these were pretty realistic, and i factor in the safety car in Bahrain.

        He just hasn’t done enough IMO to justify being much higher in the rankings than this which many seem to be insisting on despite not really giving a reason. Bottas has made plenty of mistakes, but not quite as costly as some of Russel’s and in terms of bad starts this year, can’t say either has been better. One thing that we do know is that Bottas has a far tougher team mate, who he can occasionally beat and often be reasonably close to and give a tough time in qualifying. The single occasion on the simplest track of the year where Bottas was not at his best is a poor thing to base Russel’s whole season on.

        So I think around 9th and behind Bottas is fair, but could be the other way round.

        1. Agree @thegianthogweed,
          We might have been a bit too tough on Latifi though.

        2. @thegianthogweed Regarding Hungary… that shows the dangers of basing these things on stats. Latifi had a great start and was I believe running in 10th, and ahead of Russell, then a car (Mclaren I think?) was released into the side of him in the pits and punctured his tyre, causing a spin at the first corner and severe damage for the rest of the race.

          1. @tflb
            indeed i missed that. I now wonder if Latifi should possibly not be last anymore as he wasn’t all that far off Russell on race day.

          2. @tflb It was Williams who released Latifi in to the side of Sainz, squeezing him in to the wall and breaking his wing I believe. Latifi picked up a puncture and subsequently dropped it at the first corner.

            Williams being the last garage have form in this. Was only season before Kubica was released straight in to path of Verstappen spoiling his race a little and earning Williams a fine.

          3. @stuben ah that was it – I knew there was a Mclaren involved. Anyway – not Latifi’s fault.

          4. Interesting discussion @thegianthogweed, @tflb, @coldfly, it remains a question of whether we are judging Russell a bit harshly here, or perhaps Latifi (as well), and indeed @slotopen a car like the Williams (and arguably the Alfa romeo and Haas this year most of the time too) are so mediocre in most race appearances that it becomes very hard to judge their drivers merit, hence they usually end up at the back by default, unless clearly starring performances by them, or very glaring errors by others mix that up, both in races and in rankings such as this.

  4. I’m a big George Russell fan, but actually think this is about correct. He no doubt has incredible 1 lap pace, as seen in many qualifying sessions this year. Getting into Q2 so many times this year in the Williams, puts a number of drivers to shame.

    As mentioned above, his starts have been pretty poor and I think there are still some question marks about his race pace (and getting the most out of the Pirellis), when compared to his qualifying pace. It felt like there was a lot of times he smashed Latifi in qualifying but wasn’t very far ahead in the race. There were also quite a few mistakes, Imola a definite low point.

    He’s a very special talent, and only in his second year. I think if he keeps improving, without a doubt he can be a multiple world champion if given a title contending car.

  5. I was shocked Lando was placed behind Gasley, I’m dumbfounded Russel was

    What, just because he was in the right place at the right time to win a GP that suddenly makes him a top driver?

    1. Why? I would maybe place them both ahead of Bottas but Gasly was pretty amazing this season.

    2. Gasly impressed me more in the races he did not win, than in that one race.
      Overall he had a very strong season and I’d rate him higher last year than Russell, Bottas, and Norris. Tossing it up with Sainz, Perez and Leclerc.

      1. @coldfly That’s pretty much my groupings for those drivers too, although Russell is the hardest to place since it’s harder to measure performance in an uncompetitive car that rarely features anywhere close to the points.

        1. @keithedin, my biggest struggle with Russell is that he was either very good (as proven in the Merc that weekend, but hidden in a terrible Williams the other weekends), or he is a very talented racer but with a variable season in 2020 (except for the Saturdays).

          I still think it is the second. If he was really that good in 2020 (and held back by the Williams) then we should all be ashamed and re-rate Latifi. He was a rookie, drove the same car, and he was on Sundays mostly not that far behind Russell (or even ahead of him).

  6. No problem with Russell being ranked 9th… it’s Bottas being in the top 8 that’s inexplicable.

    1. @tflb
      I agree, Bottas’ performances were nothing to shout about this season. He was consistently outpaced by Hamilton in the races (Monza and Istanbul were particularly embarassing, considering he’s a multiple race winner) and the one time he raced against Russell, he was outpaced (raw pace & tyre managment) by him.

      1. Bottas’ two wins obviously catch the eye a bit, but these both wins were in races his teammate got penalties – otherwise he spent pretty much the entire season being comfortably outperformed by Hamilton (and Verstappen in inferior machinery quite often too) – top 8 is baffling.

        1. Botas wasn’t even top 12 I would say. Agree with all these comments.

    2. @tflb Bottas has never been as close to Ham as Rosberg (except for a few races) but he is one of the best n.2 drivers. Of course he could be even closer to HAM but he has now finished 2nd two times in a row and reality is that is what matters and I think that’s why he always ends up in top 10 or even in top 5.

      But tbh I want BOT to challenge HAM like ROS.

      1. 2nd in the standings…

      2. @qeki But I (and many others I think) feel that there are many other drivers who could do as good a job as Bottas, or better… and maybe perhaps even if they weren’t as quick in qualifying, they wouldn’t be so hopeless in the races. That’s the problem with Bottas – he’s got no fight, he’s so wishy-washy. That’s how Rosberg beat Hamilton – by fighting him. Bottas doesn’t even fight other teams.

        1. That’s how Rosberg beat Hamilton – by fighting him

          I actually fell out of my couch when i read this!

        2. Complete nonsense, ros won by having better engine reliability and nothing else.

  7. He’s going to make Bottas a failed talent.

    1. The Bottas thing in the ranking makes you wonder why rank at all. You can just take the WDC table as ranking if we are not looking beyond what the car does

  8. I don’t know, this still feels a little low given the pace he showed this season. Yes, he made mistakes (Imola SC-crash and Mugello final re-start were probably the worst ones), but so did other drivers, including Leclerc.
    He outraced Bottas (better raw pace and tyre managment) and would’ve very likely won the 2nd GP at Bahrain, despite not being familiar with the car and even having problems fitting in the car, because of his height.
    Yes, I am aware of the fact that George’s mistakes cost his teams valuable points, but I still feel he did a better overall job than Bottas. So I’d put him at least ahead of Bottas in P8.

    1. Vettel won 4 championships just by qualifying superiority, a couple of race-day-craft attributes and team backing that ensured enough points for the championships. Russell showed more than enough this year that he has that covered and more (can also race). The real measure for this ranking should be where would he place in the best car on the grid? I don’t think it’s 9th.

      1. This is about what actually happened this season, not fantasy rankings. 9th is a very high rating for a driver who showed very little outside of 1 race and qualifying against a very unproven teammate. I’m sure you’ll get the chance to see what he can do in future though in a better car but ranking him higher on potential is wrong.

        1. I disagree. Remember when people were saying similar things about Leclerc’s 2018 season: “He only beat Ericsson, who is nothing more than a pay driver.”
          The last two years we saw how good Charles really was and very few people (except those who worked with him) believed he was really that special. Even when he destroyed the whole field in F2 (similar applies to George Russel), people were just trying to undermine his achievments by claiming it was the weakest field of drivers in a very long time and most drivers could win in a team like Prema.

          No, George didn’t have the smooth season he could’ve/should’ve had, but IMO his raw pace does warrant a place inside the top 10, unlike Bottas, who had a similar season to the likes of Kvyat and Ocon.

        2. What happened this year is tabulated pretty accurately in the WDC ranking – so some thinking required … not for everyone.

          1. What happened this year is tabulated pretty accurately in the WDC ranking

            WDC ranking is of course driver and car (some say it’s 95% car), so yes indeed “so some thinking required”.

  9. BOTTAS!

  10. I myself have complained about some of the rakings on this site, but me and several others have gone into a lot of detail. Most just seem to be putting what seem like angry comments without describing why they so strongly disagree. My prediction for what would happen in the 2nd post down seemed to be correct..

  11. Still hoping the Hulk will eventually show up in the rankings, maybe 8th, making Bottas 21st -23rd. Although I’d placed him 20th, ahead of Latifi. About Aitken and Schu Jr, not enough races for a proper ranking.

  12. Clearly he pushed the car hard in qualifying, maximizing its potential. Managing Q2 so many times is proof in itself of his speed. The cost was inevitably paid in the race (stats) where he could do little to improve that position and dropped back, overdrove or got unlucky a few times. That doesn’t mean 9th isn’t about right overall. One stellar weekend with Mercedes isn’t enough to alter a season-long performance. Still, based on 2020, I’d say Russell demonstrated the most potential of the younger generation of drivers (excluding Verstappen and Leclerc here). I’m sure if he’d been driving a Renault or McLaren, say, he’d be up there in second or third in these rankings. I know one race isn’t conclusivebut the mere fact of taking on all that pressure at Mercedes and producing a flawless race, even after the team messed up, is, I think, proof enough he can take on the kind of role VER and LEC have assumed as lead drivers in their teams. Or at least enough evidence to be given the chance.

    1. I’m sure if he’d been driving a Renault or McLaren, say, he’d be up there in second or third in these rankings.

      That’s the fatal flaw of these end-of-year driver rankings at RaceFans, they are 80% about the car/team and 20% about the driver.

      1. But that’s always the case, isn’t it melanos? I tried pointing to that too. We can rate actual performance and the potential those performances show us, they’re two different things. Williams clearly think Russell is a huge bonus for them, and undoubtedly is, and he deserves credit for trying his utmost in a car that’s basically last on the grid, but in the end there’s only so much you can justify in terms of seasonal ranking for someone still finishing near the back.

  13. RE. Bottas, I’m sure he’ll be arriving soon enough. As a challenge to Hamilton, he scores near zero. As a guarantor of second place for Mercedes, maybe an eight? It’s not as though he imploded or even drove badly, most of the time. So I think higher than some drivers (like Russell) who had a mixed bag of good and bad performances is fine.

  14. Can not understand this ranking unless Keith has planned to use cross arguments to justify why other drivers are so high.

  15. Think it’s indeed low when compared to bottas, overall for a driver who mostly drove a williams and compared to latifi, I think this ranking is fair, it’s bottas that definitely should be at best 10th, at least midpack, I don’t see more than half the grid doing worse than him in the seat, again good in qualifying but terrible in races.

    1. If Bottas was “terrible in the races” in general, then you can say that on quite a few occations, Hamilton was not much barely any better, therefore very bad. Such as silvestone at both races, Tuscany, and a few others. But Hamilton’s wasn’t exactly bad performance wise anywhere. He was either very or extremely good. This is why i think Bottas can’t be judged that harshly.

  16. Yes, we must rank Russell worse than Bottas because he hit the pit wall on his reconnaissance lap in Turkey. Completely inconsequential.

  17. Russell has to be ahead of Bottas. He beat him with no preparation and someone else’s setup.

    Did an impressive job at Williams wringing the neck of a horrible car.

    But if Russell really is #9 then it reflects poorly on Hamilton because he did Hamilton’s job without breaking a sweat.

    1. You know that pitstop disaster in Bahrain was because Russell left his radio on right? Not placing the blame at George’s feet but I’m very sure Hamilton would not have made the same mistake, small things like that are the difference between a guy who’s trundled round at the back of the grid for two years versus a seven time champ that races at the sharp end in meaningful races every year of his career.
      Russell clearly has potential but he is so far from matching Hamilton at the moment. Were we to see him in a merc next year his poor starts and occasional errors would be magnified, racing again Hamilton for a full season is a different game to facing Bottas for one race on a mickey mouse circuit

    2. As Lewis indicated himself expecting to be at just 1 WDC should he have stayed at McLaren

  18. Quite something when even the 9th best driver on the grid can jump in an ill-fitting Mercedes and be on winning pace straight away

  19. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    26th January 2021, 18:54

    Just curious, what would his ranking have been without his Mercedes race?

  20. Bottas should be ranked worse than Russell, no question about it.

  21. If we had some AWS magic that actually worked, and gave us a true driver performance assessment, it might tell us Russell was actually the #1 driver of year. But without that, a driver in the worst car on the grid, whose main point of comparison is the worst driver on the grid, is always going to be hard to place in rankings.

    Yes, he battered his team-mate. But outqualifying Latifi 10 times is less impressive than outqualifying Hamilton or Verstappen once, so it’s hard to put too much weight on that.

    I don’t try to do precise rankings, but in my head I put Russell in the #6-#10 area, the same place as his fellow Super-Saturday performer, Bottas.

    1. Yes, he battered his team-mate.

      No he didn’t, at least not on the Sundays when it counts. @neilosjames
      See the head-to-head reviews shared by others.
      And these rating should be focussed more on the Sunday performance than the Saturday afternoon outings.

  22. To many mistakes to be this high in the rankings.

  23. better than half of the grid ….

    Isn’t he doing third year at the back of the grid ?
    couldn’t beat Bottas on qualy or race on the merc..

    I mean Stroll had podium in worst Williams car, first season
    Perez 3 podiums second season
    Verstappen won first race on top car on second year
    Le Clerc top car, second year and 2 wins

    UK hyped to overrated,
    Magnussen is better,
    this is Russel last season IMHO

  24. great young driver, who’ll iron out his rare mistakes. But the bad luck he’s had throughout the season, culminating with the Sakhir GP where he lost a maiden win, might be more difficult to shake.

  25. The only pause for thought with George is the number of races, and laps, in which he was behind his teammate. Removing the Sakhir race, on the basis of race results only, Nicholas beat him.

    1. This is a really dumb way to judge relative performance of drivers with seriously poor cars. By that logic, you’d also argue that Tarso Marques ‘beat’ Fernando Alonso in the Minardi in 2001 because he technically finished higher in the standings.

  26. Not a judgement, but a pause for thought and part of the picture. It surprised me seeing that George, who I rate very highly, did not come ahead of Nichols more often than not- bad luck and calamities in certain races notwithstanding.

    We all know that George is much quicker than Nicholas, and is an excellent driver. What isn’t known is whether he is quick enough to replace Valtteri at Mercedes. My feeling is that he is, but it’s not absolutely clear to me just yet.

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