George Russell Can Be Great – It’s Time We Let Him
George Russell’s racing career is exceptional. It’s time he gets an opportunity to showcase that.
George Russell has finished P9 once in his Formula 1 career, on a painful night in Bahrain in a shiny black Mercedes that should’ve given him 23 more points than it did.
George Russell has finished P11 three times in his F1 career. The first was a chaotic wet race in Germany in 2019 where a mistake on the final stint messed up his chances of a point; the second was in Mugello 14 months later in a destructive race where somehow, being the penultimate finisher gave him his equal-highest career finish at that time.
The third time was in the Austrian Grand Prix, where a Q3 appearance seemed to promise the points that slipped out of grip a week before on the same circuit. It, inexplicably, could not promise that.
An extraordinarily fast lap on medium tyres in Q2 on Saturday 3rd July produced a 1:04.553, allowing the British driver to progress to the final stage of qualifying for the first time in his career as a Williams driver. His lap in Q3 meant he finished in P9, but a controversial penalty for Sebastian Vettel elevated his grid position up one place.
A scare on his reconnaissance laps suggested a problem on the rear of the car, with Russell radioing to express his concerns in a heart-stopping moment reminiscent of Charles Leclerc’s pre-race troubles in Monaco, where the Ferrari driver was unable to start from pole after a stunning qualifying. Nevertheless, Russell began the race from P8, and the issue seemed to be resolved without trouble.
Off the start, the Williams lost 4 places, a recurring issue with their car, and those starting on softs used their compound to make up positions in the early part of the race. Russell worked up to P7 as drivers pitted, but after the various strategies had unwound, he was left defending the final points position from Alonso. Alonso himself was determined to score, believing his weekend had been ‘ruined’ by the same incident that had promoted Russell up to P8 after qualifying. He made a brave effort to defend his position, but ultimately it would prove fruitless; Alonso took 10th place late in the race, denying Russell long-awaited points for Williams once more.
Afterwards, Alonso told Autosport that he’d “felt a little bit sad” that it was Russell he’d had to fight for the final points position.
Every time the Norfolk-born driver inches near to the top half of the grid, strong-worded warnings are issued on social media, asking people not to mention his name as to avoid ‘jinxing’ him – you will see fans ignoring his progress mid-race out of superstitious hope that it will somehow help him avoid a mechanical failure or bad pitstop.
It’s understandable, though. Because these things always seem to happen.
Between disaster pit stops and punctures in Sakhir, dropping it behind safety cars in Imola, a huge crash at the same track a season later, or a random overheating issue in Austria that forced retirements, the thing that we hope for never seems to come, no matter how secure he seems in achieving it. ‘Gutted’ is the word Russell generally uses to describe it, and his habit of describing disappointing moments as such has been picked up by fans, which would be immensely funny if not for the fact that the pattern shows how much this has happened.
When you know the stories of these races, the numbers are heartbreakingly lacklustre in how they tell the story of a driver who has always shined.
That’s the problem with letting numbers write our history books, you see. They don’t tell the joy before the heartbreak. How fans across the globe screamed his name as he launched into the lead of the race in Bahrain; how we breathed a sigh of relief as he blocked Fernando Alonso for one more corner on the final laps of the Austrian Grand Prix. The results don’t tell you about the world class driving they came in spite of, and which Russell regularly delivers.
George Russell has dismissed rumours that any announcement on his future will be made at the British GP, but it seems even Mercedes will be unable to avoid the conversation about their contracts for 2022 for much longer, and whether Russell will finally make a step up to the Brackley outfit that has been so long anticipated. It will be a huge jump from being the leader of a team that has scored just one point since Russell joined the team.
The fact that we can realistically set these expectations, even if he sometimes does not achieve them, is a glowing endorsement of how much he can drag out of even the worst of cars. The fact that we can genuinely, realistically hope for Q3 appearances and top 10 finishes, on pace, in one of the slowest cars on the grid, proves how talented he is. George Russell can be expected to jump 5 or 6 cars faster than him every time he gets inside his. That has to be taken seriously by teams nearer the front of the grid.
As F1 fans, we need to occasionally step back and appreciate how exceptional his driving is, no matter whether he finishes in P11 or P10. The differences between those things are decided on tiny, arbitrary, randomised things, like the number of retirements in a race, and how powerful free tyre choice is, and whether there’s a safety car in the first few laps or not. Those things are not in his control.
What is in his control, though, is the way he consistently puts himself in positions to benefit from anything that could possibly work in his favour. Russell is not only performing to the very top of his machinery’s ceiling, but is ready to rise beyond that and break that ceiling wherever possible. He is constantly fighting to achieve more than his car is capable of in pace alone.
George Russell can perform in the midfield in a backmarker car. The natural assumption, therefore, is that he would succeed in a midfield car, perhaps towards the top of the field. The last time Russell drove for a top team was in F2 and GP3 with ART, a feeder series giant – he dominated those series in his rookie season and won both championships the year he joined them. Him excelling in a top team is, then, a fair assumption too.
It seems, despite this, that Russell will not be announced at Silverstone this weekend. The conditions would have been textbook – an all-English lineup confirmed at Mercedes’ de-facto home race in England – but admittedly mid-July is a bit early for a signing this high-profile.
For me, though, the way that Russell has conducted himself through the recent swathes of Mercedes 2022 rumours are an indication of one of his most important virtues in making him suitable for a top seat: faith.
He showed faith in his ability in Sakhir, when he fought back up after the first disastrous pitstop to second; faith when he went out for a Q2 run on mediums in Austria despite the prospect of him making through seemingly impossible at that time. He has shown faith in his ability to wrangle a point out of a Williams car despite one never coming to fruition.
By far the most important manifestation of his faith, though, is in his attitude to his career. Regardless of how many years Bottas signs for again, regardless of how many times he has to say that he will be driving with a ‘Mercedes engine’ for 2022, I think that he still has faith that it will come. He doesn’t question whether that is the right decision, just puts his head down and proves himself further. Even if we don’t quite know out how, or when, he continues to work for everything, because he truly believes it will come.
The kid that showed Toto Wolff a powerpoint presentation in 2015 had faith – in his ability, in his future, but also in Toto, to help him achieve those dreams. The fact that faith is still alive as ever shows what kind of person George Russell is.
He is the kind of person that can be amongst the true greats of Formula 1. So I think it’s time we let him.
Amelia Taylor is the author of “formulaAMELIA” details at formulaamelia.com
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