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Formula 1

Britain faced a post-Hamilton F1 chasm. Not anymore

by Matt Beer
5 min read

In the latest of the W Series drivers’ columns for The Race, Alice Powell says George Russell’s Sakhir Grand Prix performance was as important for Britain’s future Formula 1 interest as it was for Mercedes

It seems strange to say it after a week which started with Lewis Hamilton testing positive for coronavirus and ended with crushing disappointment for the young British drivers looking to follow in his Formula 1 footsteps, but British fans should feel incredibly happy and proud after the Sakhir Grand Prix.

Not so long ago, a retirement announcement by Hamilton would have left a chasm, but Bahrain proved that the Union Jack will continue to be represented strongly on the grid, and the podium, for many years to come. Indeed, there is plenty of life after Lewis.

Callum Ilott

The results didn’t do the Brits justice this week. Callum Ilott lost the Formula 2 title to Mick Schumacher and missed out on a seat at Haas for 2021, but he can consider himself very unlucky, particularly on the latter, and his time will come.

Jack Aitken’s grand prix debut will be remembered for the moment when he spun into the barriers and ripped the front wing off his Williams, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he kept vastly experienced 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen at bay for a long time having got a very late call-up and endured a tough Formula 2 season.

Lando Norris was comfortably beaten by his McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr on paper but made up 10 places on the opening lap following his qualifying problems and penalties and held on to claim a point having started on the back row.

And as for George Russell, he didn’t put a foot wrong. Anyone watching their first Formula 1 race on Sunday would have thought Russell had been racing at the front all season because he dealt with everything expertly.

Of course, George, despite being just 22, is no rookie – this is his second season in F1 and he is a Formula 2 and GP3 champion – but it is difficult to overstate what a massive change going from a Williams to a Mercedes is right now and he took to it like a duck to water.

Russell is a future world champion who will win numerous F1 races, perhaps starting in Abu Dhabi

The Williams has a huge performance deficit compared to the championship-winning Mercedes. The tyre degradation is different, the modes are different, you are dealing with traffic and safety car restarts in a different way, lapping cars instead of being lapped.

The list goes on and all of this while crammed uncomfortably into the seat of your hero. It was a mind-boggling display from Russell.

Russell’s race starts have not been great and he struggled to get off the line in his Williams at the same circuit last weekend. He has admitted previously that they are not his strongest suit and he was tentative on the formation lap here.

But he overcame those scars and the pressure of starting on the front row to absolutely nail his start, despite being on the dirty side of the grid, and pulled off a fantastic move on Valtteri Bottas at the first corner.

After the first-lap incident between Sergio Perez, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen, Russell managed the safety car period well and controlled the race from there, emerging from the first round of pitstops with a comfortable lead over Bottas.

Dec 07 : Sakhir Grand Prix review

He remained unflustered, negotiating the traffic and a slight power issue. Only something beyond his control was going to stop him and that is exactly what happened.

It is not often we say it, but it was a real mess by Mercedes at the second pitstops. Did it cost Russell victory? It is always difficult to say that because anything can happen, like the puncture which finally did for Russell and deprived us of a great scrap for the win in the closing stages.

The fact that errors from Mercedes are so rare makes it even more galling for Russell, but he should be proud of a really mature performance, which continued in the post-race interview pen when he spoke about winning and losing as a team.

He is a future world champion who will win numerous F1 races, perhaps starting in Abu Dhabi next weekend.

A week is a long time in motorsport, just ask Sergio Perez. The Mexican had no luck in Bahrain seven days ago when a late engine failure robbed him of a podium, but there was plenty of good fortune about his maiden F1 win.

Perez could well have ended up in the barriers like Verstappen on lap one, though Leclerc was the guilty party in that incident and the Ferrari man was rightly given a three-place grid penalty.

Perez was probably slightly unsighted and didn’t expect Leclerc to go down the inside, hence why he turned in, but Leclerc’s move was optimistic to say the least.

Having survived that, Perez drove a stunning race to come right back through the field from last place.

He was very emotional, knowing that this could be his last year in F1. No driver would want to leave without a victory, particularly when you have driven in nearly 200 grands prix.

I suspect Russell, and a few of his compatriots, will not have to wait so long.

Alice Powell finished third in the inaugural W Series championship in 2019, winning the final race at Brands Hatch last August. The 27-year-old Briton was the first woman to win a Formula Renault championship and score points in GP3.

Alice Powell W Series 2020

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