until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Russell hopes Wolff has driver headache sooner than 2022

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

George Russell hopes coming close to victory on his Mercedes Formula 1 race debut has given team boss Toto Wolff a headache “not just for 2022, maybe sooner”.

Russell is a Mercedes protege who has raced in F1 with Williams since 2019, and has a contract with the team for 2021 as well.

He was an option for Mercedes’ works team for next year but Williams blocked a Mercedes approach earlier this season and activated an option to keep the young Briton in its line-up instead. Mercedes subsequently extended Valtteri Bottas’s contract.

However, with Mercedes’ world champion Lewis Hamilton sidelined with COVID-19, Mercedes and Williams struck a deal to let Russell move to the champion team for the Sakhir Grand Prix.

Russell qualified second and led for the majority of the race, only to be denied by a pitstop problem and then a puncture.

He fought back from 15th after that late pitstop to finish ninth and at least score his first points in F1, having spent his fledgling career in back-of-the-grid and lower-midfield machinery.

“This has been a great weekend of validation, saying ‘actually we probably have been doing a very good job in the Williams'” :: George Russell

Asked how much validation he took from this performance, and whether he’d caused Wolff a headache over his driver choice in the future, Russell said: “I’ve been working incredibly hard with Williams to extract everything possible and there’s been so many times that we felt like we’ve done an incredibly good job.

“I guess there’s always an element of uncertainty in the back of your mind.

“From a personal perspective this has been a great weekend of validation, saying ‘actually we probably have been doing a very good job in the Williams this year’.

George Russell Mercedes

“And secondly, I guess yeah from Toto’s perspective, hopefully I have given him a headache.

“Not just for 2022, maybe sooner.”

Earlier this year Mercedes announced Bottas would stay with the team “at least” until the end of 2021. Seven-time world champion Hamilton is yet to agree a new deal beyond this year but Wolff said after the Sakhir GP that Hamilton and Bottas would remain the Mercedes driver pairing next year.

He said it was not “realistic” for Russell to join the team in place of Bottas for 2021 but acknowledged it could be a “wild ride” in the future.

“The way to do your talking is on track,” said Russell.

“This is a performance industry and I hope this weekend has cemented their views regarding me.

“Mercedes have supported me since the end of 2016, they have followed my whole career very closely.

“Hopefully this is just another step on the ladder.”

“Part of me is gutted. Part of me is very proud” :: George Russell

Russell may get a second chance for Mercedes in just a few days if Hamilton does not recover from his illness in time to race in Abu Dhabi.

“It’s not the way that I would have wished to get my first opportunity, and it’s not nice that it’s off the back of somebody else’s illness,” Russell said.

“Obviously, I’d love to get the chance next week. But the most important thing is [Hamilton’s] health.

“I think I can build off the momentum from this and can deliver something decent next week but we have to wait and see.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Sakhir Grand Prix Race Day Sakhir, Bahrain

Russell beat Bottas into Turn 1 in Bahrain and edged clear in the opening stint after managing an early safety car restart.

He was five seconds ahead by the time a later safety car period prompted Mercedes to bring both drivers in for a precautionary pitstop, which was the start of Russell’s “fairytale” victory unravelling.

He lost the lead because Mercedes fitted the wrong front tyres at his stop and he had to pit again to rectify the mistake.

Then as he charged through from fifth, a rise that included a quality overtaking move on Bottas around the outside of Turn 6 and into the tight chicane, Russell suffered a puncture while running second and closing on race leader Sergio Perez.

George Russell Valtteri Bottas Mercedes F1 2020 Sakhir GP

Russell admitted he was left with “incredibly mixed feelings” from the race.

“On the one hand, incredibly disappointed and gutted to miss out on a victory,” he said. “Not only once, but twice it went away from us.

“Could have recovered it, we could have caught Checo [Perez] back up and made the move but obviously we got the puncture. So, part of me is gutted.

“Part of me is very proud and privileged to get this opportunity, and be a part of his fantastic team.

“I hopefully get the opportunity again soon.”

Russell said tougher moments to process are personal mistakes like the one he made under the safety car at Imola, crashing out while in a position to potentially score his and Williams’s first point of the year.

He revealed he had set a personal target of being within two tenths of Bottas on his Mercedes debut, and so the performance exceeded his expectations.

“I guess sometimes you just feel like everything’s against you in a situation like this,” he said.

“And at some points it just felt too good to be true, this whole situation, getting this opportunity and qualifying second, almost on pole.

George Russell Mercedes F1 2020 Sakhir GP

“I need to leave with my head held high regardless of the result. I could have been off the pace, but fluked into a podium and I wouldn’t have been as satisfied as I am right here right now.

“Because I know that it was a well executed weekend, and between me and my core group of engineers on the performance side, we did as much as we can.

“I know that with more and more races under my belt in this car I’ll just get stronger.

“I’m going to wake up tomorrow, I’ll still be disappointed, but I’ll be trying to have my head held high.”

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