If Mercedes produces a consistent F1 car running up front in 2023, George Russell could be an impressive wildcard in the lead battle.
While the article isn’t quite finished, Russell has already given plenty of insight that he’s ready to take on the challenge of fighting for F1 race wins on a regular basis. He’s already capable of beating anyone on his day. He believes last year’s victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix is proof of that.
But this isn’t about what Russell can do on any given Sunday. A tiny improvement would make him a massive threat for an entire season.
Mercedes didn’t sign Russell because they felt he could be a top driver 99% of the time. And Russell didn’t get where he is by accepting what he’s already achieved. Both are laser-focused on improvement and unsurprisingly Russell acknowledges he can do better.
“I was happy,” says Russell of his Racecraft in 2022. “The parts I look back on are racing with Max in Brazil and also racing with Max in Barcelona. The overtakes I made in Montreal, in the hairpin. I’ve had a few fights with Lewis, Miami I imagine.
â€œI was happy with how it went. Of course it can always get better. And I can definitely improve. And with experience you will.â€
As we shall see, there is plenty of evidence that Russell is more than capable of the kind of hard, determined and fair driving that often defines the very best. He had a generally excellent first year at Mercedes.
But there have been a handful of notable incidents where he actually could have done better in 2022. And considering how good Russell already is, that’s an intriguing claim.
In a chaotic Singapore Grand Prix, a race in which he had already awkwardly clipped Valtteri Bottas’ Alfa Romeo sliding down an escape lane, Russell awkwardly crushed Mick Schumacher’s Haas on the escape to Turn 1 in Singapore.
Russell admits it was probably “more out of frustration than anything” at how his weekend fell apart. It wasn’t malicious, but it was a bit careless and summed up a rowdy few days – for which he was by no means solely responsible. But Russell concedes he could have handled it better because it was an unnecessary incident to engage in.
Another obvious incident was at the first corner of the United States Grand Prix, where Russell crashed into the side of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari.
There remains a valid argument that Sainz’s aggravated trajectory exiting the corner as he came back over the track as he focused on a cutback on Max Verstappen contributed to the clash. But Russell’s trajectory was set having brought in a bit too much speed, so it seemed likely he would hit the Ferrari anyway.
So it was his misjudgment, however small, and made easy under the circumstances. The best drivers rarely get scraped like this, but every driver has his moments, especially as they head closer to the front: think Max Verstappen at some races in 2018, or Charles Leclerc in Japan in 2019, or Sakhir in 2020. Well, Russell should be given time to get used to it.
There were two other notable incidents worth addressing. One of them is the British Grand Prix starting accident, which ended with Zhou Guanyu violently rolling over a barrier. Russell played a key role in this incident after slowly moving left after a poor start and not noticing Pierre Gasly as he tried to squeeze through the gap between Russell and Zhou.
That gap disappeared when Russell walked over, they made contact which threw Russell into Zhou and turned the Alfa Romeo upside down.
A better awareness of Russell could have prevented that, but it was the sort of misjudgment made easy in such circumstances. Doing it again would be more carefree.
Another collision occurred in France when Russell rammed Sergio Perez’s Red Bull into the chicane. It was a driver who knew he was unlikely to get a clear opportunity and tried to force the issue. There’s no harm in that as long as it’s not desperate and nobody’s race gets ruined, even though it was a late move and contact was inevitable unless Perez backed out big (which he didn’t). have to do).
At the very least, it’s a good sign for Mercedes that he’s at least able to be aggressive when the situation calls for it. And Russell actually draws a slight parallel between the clashes between Perez and Sainz, because each was about choosing the right moment.
â€œMaybe I could have done better with Carlos, but like the incident with Checo in France, when I threw one inside, I was happy with that because it felt like my only chance to me gotta go,” he says.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t reckless. Yes, we made contact, but it was contact in a way that won’t put us both out of the running.â€
Coincidentally, at the next race, another incident involving Perez occurred when Russell broke the driving rules, meaning he was found guilty of causing Perez to spin as the Red Bull tried to corner him around the outside of Turn 4 to overtake in Austria.
However, this type of collision has become more common over the years as the track slopes down and the car tends to understeer heavily on the inside. That makes this case less egregious, even though Russell was at fault under the letter of the statute.
However, there is a counterpoint to all of the above that is pretty simple. For every example selected here, there is another that shows Russell is exceptionally good in combat.
In Spain, where he was able to ride wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen for the first time, he stretched out his elbows in a perfectly balanced style. And while Red Bull’s DRS issues may have prolonged this fight longer than it should have lasted, the role Russell played in keeping Verstappen at bay for so long has been great.
Particularly impressive was the sequence of corners where he was able to stay around the outside at Turn 1, squeeze Verstappen on the exit of Turn 3 and then deftly delay his turn-in for Turn 5 to prevent Verstappen from being able to get around him to overtake the short eruption after Turn 6.
At the end of the season he prevailed in a sprint race battle with Verstappen which was key to his Grand Prix victory the following day. There Russell played to the advantage he had from the combination of soft tires and the Mercedes’ inherent strength this weekend to set up a pass to Verstappen on one lap and then finish it on the next lap.
On this occasion he was patient and clever, faking a move at Turn 1 enough to force Verstappen to defend and compromise his exit, allowing Russell to attack (unsuccessfully) at Turn 4. The next time he attempted to pass Verstappen on the outside of Turn 1, which Verstappen broke by accelerating mid-slip – but that only once again hampered his exit and allowed Russell another (unsuccessful) nibble at Turn 4 on the outside .
The third time is the stimulus: another dummy at Turn 1, another cover from Verstappen and this time a perfectly calculated run through Turn 3 to take advantage of a little drag and then use the DRS to eventually go outside Turn 4 sweep past.
â€œItâ€™s about choosing your moments,â€ says Russell.
â€œAnd I think in the sprint I was really happy with the way I went about it because I could have been more decisive and aggressive and gotten it right the first time.
“But when you know the pace of the car was there and you know the risk/reward, when you know it’s the sprint race that sets you up for Sunday, you have to pick your moments.”
It’s not just the big moments. Patience was also the order of the day as Russell struggled with teammate Hamilton earlier in the season in Miami. A late safety car gave Russell a chance to attack Hamilton on better tires and he had a couple of nibbles before finally coming clean (although Hamilton tried to hang on and Russell accidentally went off the track, so stayed just in front before he let him pass).
There are also opportunistic examples, like overtaking Lando Norris when the McLaren slipped out of the pits in Monaco, jumping into the hairpin on Mick Schumacher’s first lap in Canada, or stepping on the gas to pass Yuki Tsunoda at the Esses in Suzuka in terrible conditions.
Russell is as capable of quick, impromptu overtaking maneuvers to secure track position as he is wheel-to-wheel with those at the front of the grid, which usually separates the good and very good Grand Prix drivers .
In other words, Russell doesn’t have to do anything that we haven’t already proven he can do.
The more experience he gains, the more comfortable he feels at Mercedes, the more regularly he fights at the top – he just has to regularly muster his moderate sharpness.
â€œIâ€™m very happy with that, but there are definitely scenarios that could have been a little different this year,â€ he says.
â€œAnd maybe we would have fought for second place in the championship.
â€žBut Iâ€™m still pretty happy with how it went.â€œ
If he sharpens what few rough edges he has left, Russell won’t risk those “what if” moments in the future. He’s just going to be a huge all-around threat.