George Russell says his simracing exploits in 2020 have already made him quicker on the Williams Formula 1 simulator in preparation for the real-life grand prix season.
With the start of the F1 season pushed back by several months due to the coronavirus pandemic, Russell has been among the grand prix drivers regularly participating in online events on the championship’s official 2019 game.
But though he trailed the likes of Charles Leclerc and Alex Albon in the beginning, he won F1’s four final Virtual GPs to take the unofficial championship title and had his pace likened to that of actual F1 Esports drivers by Leclerc.
Appearing on The Race Esports Podcast to discuss his Virtual GP successes, Russell was asked about the impact they may have had on his day-to-day job of being a grand prix driver.
“[There was] one that was very interesting for me,” he said. “I jumped onto the sim for the first time yesterday at Williams, that was my first day since pre-Australia, and post-Barcelona [pre-season testing].
“Post-Barcelona, I did some correlation work, to make sure the car was feeling well compared to what I felt in Barcelona.
“And [yesterday] I said to my engineer, ‘right, I’d like to just use that exact same set-up, just to get the baseline of where my level is at compared to [before the] shutdown, this break we’ve had. And obviously, after all of my esports driving.
“So, we’ve jumped back on with the exact same set-up, and my first two laps I was seconds off, absolutely seconds off. And I was like ‘oh my God, it’s going to take forever’.
“But by my 14th lap, I was actually quicker than what I did prior to Australia, and post-Barcelona, with the exact same set-up. And I was staggered.
“And as soon as I just got back into the groove of it, it was incredible. And I was thinking, I’m sure part of that has been from doing all of this sim stuff and esports stuff at home. Keeping my body sharp, my mind sharp.
“At the end of the day, it’s still driving, you’ve still got to break as late as you can, carry as much speed through the corners as you can, [get on the] power early, all of these are just core values of racing and going fast.
“And even though it took me a few laps just to re-learn how a Formula 1 car feels versus a Formula 1 car feeling on the computer. I was straight back on it. And as I said, I surprised myself with that.”
Though Russell was on the podium in his very first Virtual GP outing, this came as a “shock” as he wasn’t among the quicker drivers in other F1 2019-based events early on – and was “miles off” the pro F1 esports drivers when practicing with them for the first time.
But as the Virtual GP regulars began to improve at what Russell says was “an incredible rate”, he himself made the biggest strides of anyone.
When asked what he’d learned from his foray into simracing, Russell said: “Something I just reminded myself is, you just can’t ever give up on a goal.
“I started this esport [thing], and I wanted to win, I don’t do anything for the sake of doing it. I wanted to win, I arrived and I was nowhere near at the level to win. And I wanted to rectify that.
“And obviously, everybody in their chosen industry or sport or whatever, you’ve got to be talented to do the job to a certain degree, but if you’re extremely talented and you put no hard work in, you’re not going to get anywhere.
“And I think it just proves for anybody, you can make a hell of a lot happen if you work hard and you put the effort in.
“I was doing that very much at the beginning when I was miles off the pace, and I wasn’t getting there. It didn’t just come to me naturally.
“And I had probably two weeks of frustration, thinking ‘I’m doing all this practice, and I’m getting nowhere, I’m just going round and round and round, in circles, driving myself crazy’. And then suddenly one day I woke up, I jumped on and it just clicked. And it snowballed from there.
“I could’ve very easily – the day or two prior to that – said ‘right, it’s not for me, not my cup of tea, I’m just going to leave it there. I’m a real driver and not an esports driver’. But you’ve just got to persevere with some things, and that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned.”