George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020

George Russell

A stellar Formula Two campaign in 2018 helped George Russell convince Williams he was ready for a promotion to Formula 1 even before the championship was decided.

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The 20-year-old already had six wins from the first 22 races, and might have had more had the series’ new-for-2018 hardware been more reliable in the opening races. He asserted himself over a competitive field including Lando Norris, who earned his promotion to McLaren the same year, and Alexander Albon, who took the title fight down to the final round.

Russell’s karting successes included victory in the 2012 CIK-FIA KF3 European championship with three wins from four starts, plus one no-score when he was taken out by a rival. He graduated to single-seaters in 2014.

He came from behind in the final round of the BRDC F4 championship to beat Arjun Maini to the title by three points with victory at Snetterton. One week earlier he also impressed as a wildcard entry in the Formula Renault Eurocup, beating newly-crowned champion Nyck de Vries to win the season finale at Jerez. Russell rounded off a successful first year in cars by winning the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award.

A promising first weekend in the European Formula Three championship with Carlin suggested he could be a title-contender. Russell won the second race of the season at Silverstone, but although he scored consistently Charles Leclerc, who took his first F3 win the same weekend, comfortably beat him to top rookie honours at the end of the year, while series veteran Felix Rosenqvist took the title.

Russell returned for a second season F3 with new team Hitech against a substantially depleted field and the growing might of Prema. Lance Stroll served notice of his intentions by winning the opening race, and by the fourth round of the season he and Prema were increasingly stamping their authority on the championship. Russell managed a pair of wins and third in the standings.

A move to the F1 support bill the following year brought more success and the interest of Mercedes, who appointed him to their junior team. Joining the crack ART squad as part of a four-man assault on the GP3 title, Russell’s knack for converting pole positions into victories made him an irresistible championship prospect. He ended the year with an emphatic 79-point margin over his three team mates, led by Jack Aitken.

As well as making his F1 test debut for Mercedes, Russell made his first official F1 race weekend appearances for their customer team Force India. As he neared the end of his successful stint in F2 Russell grabbed a multi-year deal to drive for another Mercedes customer, Williams.

2019: Williams

Russell’s Formula 1 debut got off to a less than ideal start as Williams were unable to complete their new car in time for the start of the 2018 season. Russell and team mate Robert Kubica missed valuable testing time, and once the car did run it quickly became clear the FW42 was horribly uncompetitive, and the pair were doomed to a year at the back of the field.

Despite obvious issues with the car, which had no real competitive hope, Russell outqualified Kubica at every round. The team’s only point of the season, however, at a heavily rain-disrupted German Grand Prix, went to Kubica and Russell finished the championship dead last.

2020 Williams & Mercedes

As Russell posted to his social media at the time, very few people have the chance to drive for any F1 team and 2020 put him in the unusually lucky position of driving for two different ones.

Russell started the year with Williams, who looked set for a step forward mostly by default of having very little room to go further back. Pre-season testing was much more successful, with Russell and new team mate Nicholas Latifi building up much more mileage than the previous, disastrous year. An entirely different disaster was to strike before the F1 season could begin, however, as the first race in Australia was cancelled and the calendar suspended due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

During the months of lockdown, Russell joined several other young drivers in building an audience streaming racing online and won F1’s Virtual Grand Prix championship. Russell had started the series relatively uncompetitive, unfamiliar with sim racing but was comparable to the professionals’ times by the end of the competition.

Once back to real-world racing, Russell showed his ability to get as much as possible from the Williams car by continuing his run of being unbeaten by a team mate in Formula One qualifying. He made nine appearances in Q2 but was unable to convert that into scoring points on a Sunday, his best chance being spoiled by an error that saw him crash behind the safety car and write a letter of apology to the team for the mistake.

The sale of Williams to Dorilton Capital had made it briefly look possible Russell would lose his seat there to Sergio Perez, however, the team confirmed that he and Latifi would continue into 2022 at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Russell had continued as a Mercedes junior driver during his time at Williams and when already-crowned 2020 champion Lewis Hamilton was diagnosed with COVID-19, he got the call to step up to the top team. Williams permitted him to do so, promoting reserve driver Jack Aitken in Russell’s place and Russell used an old seat from 2019 Abu Dhabi testing and race boots a size too small to squeeze into Hamilton’s car for the Sakhir Grand Prix.

Despite having been set low expectations, given his lack of preparation, Russell was able to qualify second – just 0.026 seconds behind regular Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas – on the Bahrain outer circuit.

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George Russell pictures

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