August 20, 2022

Jhere do not doubt the intensity, the palpable will to win that emanates from George Russell. Yet achieving success is a journey the British driver acknowledges is forged in the crucible of competition, where sometimes the toughest lessons are the most valuable. “I learned that failure is important,” he says with the air of a veteran. “It can’t always be easy, you have to look within rather than blaming others.”

The 24-year-old is still a young Formula 1 driver, but his aquiline features and piercing gaze carry an authority beyond his years as he sits in his Mercedes team campervan at Silverstone, preparing for Sunday’s British Grand Prix. The demands of his home Grand Prix are grueling, but there’s no feeling of fatigue or that facing a microphone is a chore.

He clearly still feels the privilege of his place in F1 but, vital for someone who wants to be world champion, also the promise it delivers. He smiles when reminded of how he would follow his older brother down the go-kart track as a child and drive his pedal car around the paddock, and what a world it was away from Mercedes, the 142,000 fans who will fill the old airfield on Sunday. afternoon.

“It’s always very important to take a moment to pinch yourself and acknowledge the position you’re in,” he admits. “It’s crazy to think how this journey has evolved. But you can’t just sit back and relax. You can’t just say, ‘Wow, I’ve come this far.’ so far, but I have so far to go.

The ambition is clear. This is his fourth year in F1, having endured three years in a dismal Williams car outperforming his machines. After joining Mercedes this year, he was optimistic of a winning car with the team that had won the previous eight constructors’ championships. A shaky master as the sport is, he and his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton, have instead struggled with a car that is difficult to drive, suffers from a serious rebound problem and is out of pace.

Like the lessons of failure – he cites as examples his fall with Valtteri Bottas at Imola in 2021 and the disappointment of having been deprived of victory by a mistake in team strategy and then a puncture at Sakhir replacing Hamilton in 2020 – Russell is determined to capture the positives of adversity.

“Winning is easy to some extent because everyone is happy and the team spirit is great,” he said. “Suddenly when you deal with all these issues you have to dig deep and as individuals you learn a lot about yourself and a group of people as well.”

George Russell, pictured during British GP practice, is the only driver to have finished in the top five in every race this season. Photography: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Yet even in this difficult season, his first at the end of the grid, he kept his promises, which his team principal, Toto Wolff, acknowledged. “We never doubted he would be very good,” he said. “You can see that materializing on the track. I really like his approach. »

Former driver Mark Webber also acknowledges Russell’s confidence in his own abilities. “Going out in slicks [in the wet] in Canada, super call, have an elite son,” he said. “It showed that a driver was supporting himself, that he had confidence. He’s not a passive or indecisive guy, he’s someone who is ready to take risks.

Russell has been relentlessly consistent this season, the only rider to finish in the top five in every round. He finished ahead of his teammate seven times and leads him by 34 points. Hamilton has only been beaten by a team-mate twice in his career, by Jenson Button at McLaren and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. Russell’s numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they are an impressive introduction to what should be a long career at Mercedes.

However, he is weighted enough to accept that while there are kudos in beating such an accomplished driver like Hamilton, there are no trophies for it.

“Obviously I want to beat my teammate and I’m not going to be offended if he says the same thing,” he said. “But I wouldn’t see my season as a success just because I finished ahead of him more times than he finished ahead of me. I would see it as a success if I stood on the top step of the podium .

Russell has great admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo, citing the footballer’s singular commitment to being the best as inspiration. He also praised Hamilton, but having grown up admiring him, the nature of the competition ruled out a friendship.

“I guess if you take an average look at your F1 teammates, that’s probably it,” he says. “There are a lot of people who get along well in this paddock but overall we are all fierce rivals. We are all here to compete and try to win. You are in a battle.

For one early in his career, there is a maturity and control in Russell in both character and drive that will bode ill for his rivals when he is in a machine good enough to fight for a win. It is sustained by this intensity, a commitment to give everything, no matter what. Run and have no regrets.

“Athletes have their career for 15 years and you have to make the most of it because once it’s over, it’s over,” he said. “I’m sure there are a lot of people looking back feeling like they missed something. They took it for granted and felt they could have done more. Every race, every day, it has to count. »