George Russell says his pace on the Williams simulator is better now than it was pre-lockdown, and he thinks it’s down to eSports.
The Williams driver was hugely prominent in the virtual racing scene during the hiatus. Not only did he compete in every Virtual Grand Prix, but he also dominated the series, winning four races.
Many felt that that showed how good a driver he is, while others chose not to read too much into it. Russell himself believes that it has improved his simulator pace at the very least.
“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],” he told The Race Esports Podcast.
“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.
“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 brake as late as you can, carry as much speed through the corners as you can, power early, all of these are just core values of racing and going fast.”
Russell did end up dominating the official Virtual Grand Prix series, but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, he failed to win any of the first four races, constantly being beaten by Chares Leclerc and Alex Albon. He was eventually far quicker than both, and says those eSports experiences taught him a lot.
“…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,” he added.
“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.”