GR63: A World Champion in the Making
George Russell will be a World Champion one day.
In his career so far, he has risen rapidly through the different ranks of motorsport. Now at the very top, the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula 1, it’s obvious that he has what it takes to become number one.
After a successful campaign in the European F3 Championship, finishing third, George joined Mercedes as a young driver, joining Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon. This was just the start of something very special. George went on to find success in his following racing ventures while under the Mercedes junior driver programme, beginning with his move to GP3 with ART. He became Champion in 2017, then moved up to FIA Formula 2 for the 2018 season, of which he won the Championship in his first year. Success all round throughout his junior career, all with the backing of Mercedes, before he made the move up to Formula 1.
He may have secured a seat in the team at the back of the grid, in the form of Williams, but he stepped up to Formula 1 in 2019. With his Mercedes links and the Williams car powered by a Mercedes engine, his move was inevitable. Keeping him close to Mercedes was a sign, no?
In his first two seasons in Formula 1, George scored no points for Williams. As fans, we hoped and we begged the racing Gods for even just one point, but as a Williams driver, they did not come in 2019 or 2020.
On December 1st, 2020, news came of Lewis Hamilton testing positive for COVID-19 after the Bahrain Grand Prix. He was the third driver, after Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll, to test positive for the virus during the 2020 racing season. Well wishes for a quick recovery flooded Twitter, and then, people turned their attention to the fact that his seat would be vacant for the upcoming Sakhir Grand Prix. After a dramatic weekend in Bahrain with Romain Grosjean’s terrifying accident, it was clear that we would be in for another turbulent race weekend. It seems that everyone in the paddock has one favourite party game: musical chairs.
Despite having access to their reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne, Mercedes announced George would be taking Lewis’ seat for the Sakhir Grand Prix. Questions arose about why Vandoorne was not given the drive instead, but announcing George led to even more questions. Questions about his future. Was this Mercedes’ way of seeing how he would work in their car and with the team throughout a race weekend?
George’s team mate for the weekend, Valtteri Bottas, qualified first with a time of 53.377s, but George wasn’t too far behind him and boasted a pretty impressive time of 53.403s. Of course, due to being a long-term Mercedes driver, George has had plenty of opportunities to test the car, but, until FP1 on the Friday, he’d not set foot in the W11. Ahead of Qualifying, he had only four hours to get up to speed in the fastest car on the grid, all while being too tall to actually fit into Lewis’ Mercedes.
Although he was too big for the car and wore smaller shoes over the weekend, George took the lead of the Sakhir Grand Prix into turn one. I think we all squealed a little too loud at the moment when Crofty said ‘and George Russell takes the lead of the Sakhir Grand Prix!’. I remember it all too well, and honestly, in that moment, I thought that it could actually be possible for George to win his first ever Formula 1 race. I totally believe, to this day, that he would’ve taken his maiden win.
According to f1.com (and probably every single George Russell fan), Mercedes’ ‘decision to pit Russell and Bottas under a late Safety Car led to disaster’. Miscommunication on the team radio meant that Russell’s car was fitted with a set of Bottas’ tyres - deemed illegal in Formula 1 - so the team had to pit him again to rectify the issue. Not all hope was lost at the Safety Car restart when George made his way from P5 to P2, but a puncture meant another pit stop was necessary. Devastatingly, he finished the race in P9 and with Fastest Lap, salvaging three points. It could’ve, and should’ve, been twenty-six. Albeit for Mercedes, George would still have some Formula 1 points to his name.
However, George’s performance throughout the Sakhir Grand Prix race weekend proved that he is the ‘real deal’ and it was very clear that he would be on Mercedes’ radar for the future.
He very much remained on that radar. Silly Season 2021 started, so it feels, at the beginning of the year, as fans, teams and drivers alike prepared for testing in Bahrain. Rumours about George’s move to Mercedes for 2022 were flying around quicker than you can even say ‘George to Mercedes’. No disrespect to Bottas, but we all very much wanted it to happen. George is the future of Formula 1.
According to F1 Twitter, the devoted online motorsport community, George’s move to Mercedes was definitely, one-hundred percent, expected at Silverstone. There was literal shock when it didn’t come, but George, and Mercedes, were playing on the announcement, teasing us almost - not fair, not cool.
Expecting an imminent announcement post-summer break, the Belgian ‘not a Grand Prix’ brought something that nobody expected - no, not an announcement about his future. In poor Qualifying conditions, George managed to qualify in P2 (yes, P2, that’s second) in the Williams. That’s Williams’ first front row start since Lance Stroll’s P2 in Italy in 2017. That’s also George’s best ever Qualifying performance tied to his success in the Mercedes in Sakhir.
George’s impressive Qualifying time was 2:00.086, compared to Polesitter Verstappen’s time of 1:59.765 in the Honda-powered Red Bull.
The rain on Sunday meant that the race could not go ahead as usual and the drivers simply followed the Safety Car around Spa for a few laps so half points could be given. This meant George secured the second step on the podium, in the craziest manner, and took his first Formula 1 podium, something that should’ve come in 2020. There’s plenty more to come, though. Jost Capito, Team Principal at Williams Racing, admitted that he believes George’s performance in Qualifying ‘cemented his place at Mercedes for 2022’.
Not only did George perform well at Spa, as well his team mate Nicholas Latifi, but both Williams drivers also scored points in Hungary after chaos at turn one. Their double points finish, at two consecutive races (minus the four-week summer break), puts Williams P8 in the Constructors’ Championship, ahead of Alfa Romeo and Haas.
Photo: George Russell on Twitter
The announcement we’d all been waiting rather impatiently for broke Twitter on September 7th. Officially, it is the worst kept secret in the Formula 1 paddock.
George Russell will race for Mercedes in 2022.
He is their future. One day, the GOAT will retire, like every sportsperson, and George will be their future. I truly believe that he will be World Champion one day, especially since he will spend at least two years learning from the current, and seven-time, World Champion.
The Sakhir Grand Prix was a serious taster of what’s to come. We waited so desperately for the announcement, and now we have it, I know that everyone who supports George will be waiting desperately for pre-season testing.
Not only will George be joining Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next year, but they’ll be ‘Team GB’; the only Formula 1 team with a complete British line up. Imagine the vibes at Silverstone next year.
Imagine the vibes when we hear ‘George Russell, Champion of the World’.