The other qualities which make ‘Mr Saturday’ the right driver for Mercedes

2021 F1 season

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George Russell’s promotion to Mercedes’ Formula 1 team for the 2022 season has long seemed an inevitability, and with good reason.

The tremendous success he has enjoyed during his junior career and great potential shown in three seasons of grand prix racing, usually in uncompetitive machinery, marked him out as a serious talent in need of a top car. A place alongside Lewis Hamilton next season was confirmed as his reward earlier today.

“He has been a winner in every racing category and the past three seasons with Williams have given us a taste of what the future could hold for him in F1,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff after Russell’s move to the team was finally made official.

Wolff famously promoted Russell to their junior driver programme in 2017 having been impressed by the 18-year-old’s professional approach which even extended to producing a presentation in Microsoft Powerpoint. There must have been quite a few slides in it, as Russell had already done a lot of winning.

Much of that had been in karts. Russell’s wins in Cadets and Rotax Mini Maxes followed by the CIK-FIA European KF3 championship trophy demonstrated his excellent pedigree. His first year in racing cars yielded the 2014 BRDC Formula 4 title as a rookie and the club’s prestigious young driver award.

Back-to-back GP3 and F2 titles showed Russell’s quality
That was followed by two tough seasons up against the might of the enormously well-funded Prema operation in the European Formula 3 championship (before the F3 name was transferred to the series then known as GP3).

That piled pressure on Russell upon his arrival in GP3 with the top ART squad the following year, his first season as a Mercedes-backed driver. Nothing less than the title would do for the 18-year-old.

He delivered in style. Sharing a team with three team mates including second-year drivers Jack Aitken and Nirei Fukuzumi, Russell claimed four wins and clinched the title with a round to spare. Significantly, all those wins came in feature races, most from pole, underlining the raw one-lap speed which has since become his F1 trademark.

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That was also evident when he rose to Formula 2 the following year and again delivered the title the first time of asking, mimicking Charles Leclerc’s achievement over the previous two seasons. Russell’s ART F2 predecessor Alexander Albon led the way at first, but as the season progressed the Mercedes junior became the one to watch in qualifying.

In Formula 1, qualifying a sub-par Williams high up the grid has usually been the prelude to a ‘regression to the mean’ slide out of the points positions on race day. In F2 Russell had more scope to demonstrate his racecraft, as reflected by his tallies of five pole positions and seven victories – the latter equalling the single-season F2/GP2 record, also held by Leclerc and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Days when Russell’s luck turned against him offered other opportunities to show his potential. He started 12th in the sprint race at Baku after an unfortunately-timed Safety Car period the day before, but left many rivals behind with a superb start and passed the few cars which remained ahead for his first win. From the back of the grid at the Hungaroring he climbed 12 places to salvage a useful point.

George Russell, Williams, Monza, 2020
Monza last year proved Russell knows his rule book well
On the face of it, his arrival at Williams initially offered him the opportunity to do little more than demonstrate his ability to annihilate team mates in qualifying, whether Robert Kubica (19-0) or Nicholas Latifi (28-0 and counting).

These are the performances which have earned Russell his ‘Mr Saturday’ moniker. If Hamilton, 37 next year, has lost one iota of his qualifying speed, Russell is surely the driver to expose it.

However other traits of Russell’s have been clear at Williams, not least his remarkable presence of mind on the radio during races. Some drivers merely absorb a stream of instructions from their race engineers. Russell reads the race for himself and urges them along in a manner reminiscent of past champions like Fernando Alonso – who, tellingly, has heaped praise on Mercedes’ newest driver.

In a sport where the rulebook is as labyrinthine as Formula 1’s, Russell’s razor-sharp racers’ mind is an advantage. At Monza last year Russell was the only driver to spot for himself that the pit lane entrance had been closed during a Safety Car period. Among those to be caught out were his future team mate, who admittedly had very little time to react, copping a race-losing penalty as a result.

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Ironically, Russell’s very awareness proved his undoing when he made a one-off appearance for Mercedes in 2020. Having stunned by qualifying within hundredths of a second of Valtteri Bottas and seizing the lead at the start, Russell was on course for victory when the Safety Car was suddenly deployed.

Russell could have won on his debut for Mercedes
Spotting the opportunity to make a low-cost pit stop, Russell slowed as he approached the pit lane entrance, giving Mercedes enough time to bring him in. He had shown the same foresight in a similar situation in Monaco previously with Williams. Unfortunately Mercedes slipped up, put Bottas’ tyres on his car by mistake, and a sequence of events which robbed him of victory began to unfold.

But that appearance left Mercedes well-placed to judge Russell’s potential in their car compared to Bottas. Russell told RaceFans earlier this year he was “not even close to the limits” of the W11. “I didn’t know the car,” he said, “the set-up wasn’t designed for me, I was uncomfortable, I was in pain while driving. I just made the most of a difficult situation.

“I thought that was the absolute maximum potential given the experience, but nowhere near the potential what could have been, had that been a full season.”

Alongside his speed, race craft, intellect and professionalism, Russell has also demonstrated his willingness to be a team player. He has shown dedication to the cause of pulling Williams from their grim low of 2019 back to the front of the field.

There’s no doubt he missed opportunities to score for them – notably in both races at Imola over the past 12 months – and it must have hurt that when the cards fell for the team at the Hungaroring it was his unfancied team mate Latifi who claimed the majority. But not only did Russell not complain, nor indulge in media chest-beating about his obviously superior speed, he positively urged his team during the race to sacrifice his position if necessary to aid Latifi ahead.

As last weekend’s race at Zandvoort showed, Mercedes expect their drivers to be fast and, when needed, team players.

Russell has shown he’s much more than just a one-lap specialist. Which is why, during the gap between Hungary and Belgium, Mercedes gave him the opportunity he’s awaited for years.

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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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38 comments on “The other qualities which make ‘Mr Saturday’ the right driver for Mercedes”

  1. I cannot help smiling at the multiple reports that mention Russel’s impressive presentation event.

    As a university lecturer I have made many powerpoint presentations over the years (am actually right now here procrastinating from revising a presentation for Thursday morning’s lecture). So, when do I get to drive a Mercedes F1?

    Reply moderated
    1. I know right, as if that’s something special.
      He made some PowerPoint slides.
      Great…

  2. It’s a nice love letter but all he’s done in F1 is beat Kubica and Latifi. Everyone comes in to F1 with a stellar resume (or money). His main advantage is that 2022 is a clean slate as far as car behavior and style. He’ll be on even footing with Hamilton in learning the car. He won’t have to catch up in any way.

    1. @dmw Some people said the same about Hamilton before the 2007 season. Alonso actually insisted Hamilton wasn’t good enough to be in F1.

      He didn’t just beat a one handed man and a billionaires kid, Russel went from GP3 champion to F2 champion right away. Russel destroyed Norris and Albon in F2. While Norris and Albon were already on their second season in F2. Which already puts Russell into a higher bracket than those two.

      1. Alonso actually insisted Hamilton wasn’t good enough to be in F1.

        Could you provide some source for that, @f1osaurus? What I knew was Ron Dennis mentioning that Fernando said “Don’t you want to win the constructors’ championship?” when asked about the brilliant rookie, as he wanted a more experienced driver as team mate, and truth be told, he underestimated Lewis back that time when he shouldn’t.
        But it comes to no surprise that his words are the only one that matters to you, just because he’s the one who stood completely on Hamilton’s side against Alonso at their influence wars of 2007. You’re a very biased commenter, that’s more than proved, only citing sources that are convenient and taking their claims as ultimate truth. I don’t think he lied about that, don’t need to, but you’ll probably even deny he was on Lewis side. Nothing against your idol’s narrative sticks on your mind.

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      2. I’m sorry but Norris was practically a rookie in F2 as well. He did the last weekend in Abu Dhabi in 2017. I personally would not say that norris was in his second F2 season in 2018

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      3. @f1osaurus Norris too was an F2 rookie in 2018. In fact he was making an arguably bigger jump than Russell, moving up from Euro F3 instead of GP3.

        1. @wsrgo Thanks, indeed. I thought Norris already participated in 2017, but that was just one race weekend.

        2. @wsrgo – Nope. By 2018, Norris had enjoyed 4 races (2 race weekends) in F2. So still Norris had more experience than Russell in F2. And even with more experience, Norris won only once, and never was close to winning. Ever.
          So yeah, Russell destroyed Norris.

    2. He also beat Lewis and almost the entire field in qualifying at Spa, driving a Williams. He led Bottas almost from start to finish in Sakhir, in a car he didn’t know.

      Given the time to accommodate, he’s just as good or better as any of the drivers from his generation like Max, Charles or Lando.

      1. I think Spa was something todo with the rain setup Williams runned. But George is a good Qualiflier but his first lap performance is the reverse of that.

  3. Mercedes never expected their drivers to be team players, I think: up until now they only expected their second driver to be a team player. Hamilton will never accept to be put in that position (as we’ve seen in the past) regardless of how detrimental it may be to the team or the other driver.

    I think Russell will do his part but if, for any chance, he finds himself further up on the championship standings than Hamilton… Hamilton won’t be a team player and that will detonate the driver pairing and his relationship with the team (that has its eyes already set in a post-Hamilton future).

    (Which may prove to be a shot in the foot for Hamilton, too, as I suspect he is eyeing a place at Mercedes management for his “second career”.)

    1. Hamilton won’t be a team player and that will detonate the driver pairing and his relationship with the team (that has its eyes already set in a post-Hamilton future).

      First, Hamilton doesn’t need to be a team player and certainly I can’t imagine the team ever asking Lewis to step aside to help George. I think he has earned the respect of the team and vice versa. There’s no Florentino Perez (or Whitmarsh if you prefer a F1 reference) at Mercedes (afaik) trying to get rid of Cristiano Ronaldo while he’s bringing home 3 consecutive Champions League titles and calling him an idiot.

      Second , I think should Hamilton choose to come back in any capacity for the sport, all doors will be open.

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      1. and certainly I can’t imagine the team ever asking Lewis to step aside to help George.

        Well, that is about the roll they see for George.
        Wingman.
        Poor boy, a talent thrown for the bus to satisfie Lewis.
        Let’s hope his fighting spirit survives this new “job”.
        He is way to good to be abused.

        1. erikje

          Poor boy, a talent thrown for the bus to satisfie Lewis.
          Let’s hope his fighting spirit survives this new “job”.
          He is way to good to be abused.

          Relex, there’s good chance of Hamilton’s empire inside Mercedes being imploded to the ground. They tried to force leclerc into second driver’s role at Ferrari in 2019 and failed. George might overcome the obstacles thrown at him, regardless of Mercedes’ establishment liking it or not.

          Reply moderated
        2. Just like Albon and Perez?

        3. The truth is they hardly ever asked Bottas to step aside. Russia 2018 sure, but with Ferrari having an extremely dominant car since Germany 2018, they were right to worry that Hamilton would need every point he could get. They couldn’t have predicted Vettel kept self imploding like he did (also starting from Germany).

          1. @f1osaurus

            The truth is they hardly ever asked Bottas to step aside.

            Because they made sure Bottas wasn’t up there to be asked to step aside with extremely poor strategy calls (for which he’s also may be blamed for due to complying with) even when he wished different tactics. It’s part of the pretending world of hollow virtues built by the Mercedes team.

            but with Ferrari having an extremely dominant car since Germany 2018, they were right to worry that Hamilton would need every point he could get.

            Yes, utterly dominant. We saw their opponents lagging at least 100 points behind like all other teams against the Mercs in 2014-16, didn’t we? And the title fight was pretty much alive up to Russia 2018, serious and not evidently self-imploding challenge against Hamilton’s title! ;( Of CoUrSe TeAm OrDeRs wErE NeCeSsArY !1!1 );
            Just like Toto Wolff, you think the whole world you’re speaking to is plainly dumb, unable to spot your lies. Completely wrong again.

          2. @rodewulf Wow the nonsense. Just sigh.

            Reality is, Bottas had equal opportunities, but didn’t make as much of them as Hamilton.

            Same with Vettel at Ferrari. That Hamilton destroys Ferrari even though Vettel had the faster car does not mean that Mercedes suddenly had the faster car.

            Things like Vettel crashing out of Germany from the lead while Hamilton take the win from P14 is what made the difference.

      2. Coventry Climax
        8th September 2021, 0:42

        Who is Cristiano Ronaldo? And Florentino Perez, is she related to Sergio?

      3. In a scenario where George is the leading Mercedes driver in the championship, Hamilton doesn’t have to step aside or be a team player, but in a scenario where Hamilton is the leading Mercedes driver in the championship, Geroge has to step aside and be a team player.

        That’s right isn’t it? I agree that’s what will happen, I agree that’s how Hamilton will see it, but I disagree that the team will want that in case, for some reason, George performs better than Hamilton.

        Whatever the case, I don’t see how it’s defendable that we can’t expect from both drivers the same level of sportsmanship and dedication to the team interests first.

  4. Next year we will find out if Russell is in the Verstappen/Hamilton bracket.
    If he is, he needs to be beating Hamilton from the get go and show he’s not at Mercedes to take part, he is there to take over.

    1. I think Russell is definitely in the Norris / Leclerc / Gasly bracket. He spent 1 year too many at Williams IMO. He was ready for promotion this year.

      But the Hamilton / Verstappen level is one above these 4. Will be curious to see if he gets there.

      1. He signed a three year contract at Williams though.

  5. One accolade missing from the article was the virtual GPs held during the early days of the pandemic. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t he win them all? Granted not every driver took part, but it’s a measure of the man the way he pasted those who did.

  6. Well, lets see, another young driver going against probably most complete driver in recent time.

    What George however has is speed.. Speed is good, speed is the most important quality an F1 driver can posses.

    I will make a timid prediction, that he is faster than Lewis over a single lap.

    Massaging life out of worn tires, team politics, devastating race pace.. Who knows.

    Bottas was outstanding in Williams too, and look at him defeat years in a row, but I cannot help feeling Lewis is in decline.

  7. Just some months ago, we were all collectively judging George’s actions for how he reacted after Bottas and he tangled at Imola. I just hope that he doesn’t come into Merc with that (I know he apologized and we all had a heartwarming moment after, but that does not mean he can’t snap again) and there is an overall positive feel in that team. The last thing we want is the kind of toxic relationship that was at Merc with the Hamilton-Rosberg pair. Yes we got good races, but at the cost of the drama which we could’ve done without.

    1. The surge of hormones following such an accident would test the most level headed. For example I seem to recall Bottas gave as good as he got immediately post-crash.

    2. @hatebreeder Well we had Bottas come out with his cringe “to whom it may concern” remarks on the occasion that he would finally win a race again.

      And Bottas would get upset with the team too when he felt he was wronged in not being allowed to pick an offset strategy. Not realizing that not allowing Mercedes drivers to attack each other on different strategies was instated to safe him from being beaten by Hamilton. Like when he was furious that Hamilton beat him in Silverstone 2019. And because of that, that was the last time it was allowed.

      While Bottas did at some point try to ruin Hamilton’s quali runs by slowing down suddenly at the end of his out lap in Q3. Also that ended when Hamilton simply drove passed him and the jig was up.

      There will always be some anger in the heat of the moment, but Bottas and Hamilton always seemed able to put it behind them.

      1. Not realizing that not allowing Mercedes drivers to attack each other on different strategies was instated to safe him from being beaten by Hamilton.

        Let’s protect him from the chance of success. Brilliant! Finally you nailed one, @f1osaurus, that’s the pure definition of sporting mentality within Hamilton-centric Mercedes: induce and reward mediocrity unless it doesn’t benefit the chosen one!

        Reply moderated
  8. @hatebreeder Imola showed his true colors, and even races after that hinted he was still seething, so of course this is going to come sooner or later. I hope sooner, as his only chance is really to establish himself early and not back out of anything, or he will be a doormat and for example be ordered not to overtake Hamilton at race 8 like Bottas now.

    1. @balue
      Do you remember Leclerc’s strategy to affirm himself at Ferrari? At first it looked like he would budge for Vettel, but he was sowing the seeds of a leadership slowly, knowing that he was the future of his team. He obeyed team orders sometimes but bargained on them, the type of stance that someone like Bottas just isn’t ballsy enough to take.
      Charles’ performances made him fully acknowledged as de facto number 1 as early as 2019 mid-season, regardless if those favouring the four-times world champion were approving it or not, and it came to a point where team orders simply had no place to be called, specially in 2020 when Vettel’s form slumped. We expect that George is capable of doing the same against Lewis, slightly more difficult task, but if he gets his acts together consistently, there won’t be enough of Totospeak, definitively no “George, this is James”, nor some Mercedes version of “Multi-21” that could stop him.

      Reply moderated
      1. @rodewulf Indeed, or even a Hamilton against Alonso 2007. Full force and feud straight from the get-go and Wolff will like Dennis surely be won over and drop having a no.1 and no. 2 driver. And I mean that realistically, as Wolff is about winning at any cost and has no real loyalty as we’ve seen with Rosberg and Bottas.

  9. Looks like Russel need to beat Lewis at qualification at early races. Merc could still give him ‘different strategy’ once awhile but they wouldn’t dare to do it at the beginning of the season and ruin the team spirit.

    I was not hoping he would be competitive during the race since I believed Lewis is the best driver in tyre management, but then remember that Russel did 2022 spec tyre test for Mercedes so it could give him some early advantage.

    1. There is an old video floating around of George saying to a Sky presenter that Ham gave him a few tips on how to make the tyres last, and jokes that one day he can use that advice against Hamilton.
      Not to sure about all the other ‘concerns’ people have about this move. George has basically been ensconced in Mercedes since 2017 and spent the last two years as a team leader elsewhere. Its not like he has been parachuted in to a top team and has to prove himself in the same way that Max and LeClerc did.
      Where the others in his position have fallen down (particular the RB second drivers) is in putting the car on the grid where it belongs. It does seem in this case George has that box ticked already.

      1. ian dearing

        Its not like he has been parachuted in to a top team and has to prove himself in the same way that Max and LeClerc did.

        This is misleading. Regardless of him being since long related to the team, if he fails to prove himself early on as breathing down on Hamilton’s neck consistently and not rarely even doing better, he’ll be relegated to a Bottas role. Nice words don’t hide that (actually those even put it more clearly for someone who’s not ingenuous).

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    2. @ruliemaulana

      I was not hoping he would be competitive during the race since I believed Lewis is the best driver in tyre management, but then remember that Russel did 2022 spec tyre test for Mercedes so it could give him some early advantage.

      When not in a dominant car (at McLaren) he lost in tyre management more often than not, at least against the likes of Alonso and Raikkonen. Remember that actually he was clearly better on quali pace back then. So to give him this distinction so decisively is pretty much dubious.

      Reply moderated
  10. That’s an interesting info

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