George Russell said his maiden F1 victory at the 2022 Sao Paulo GP was more significant than beating Lewis Hamilton for points that year.
After three seasons spent learning the ropes in Formula 1 at Williams, Mercedes took the decision to promote their academy graduate Russell into their line-up for 2022, meaning he would go up against Hamilton, their seven-time World Champion with the most wins, poles and podiums in Formula 1 history.
But rather than struggle to keep up, Russell would end his first Mercedes season with 275 points, 35 more than Hamilton, while Russell also scored Mercedes’ only victory of a difficult season in Sao Paulo, and before that their sole pole position of the campaign in Hungary.
That Brazil victory though is what Russell will hang his hat on for that first season, because as great as outscoring Hamilton is, Russell feels nobody is going to remember that as he recorded a P4 finish in the final standings, with Hamilton P6.
“For me, this victory in Brazil was more important than the points classification,” Russell told Auto Motor und Sport.
“At the end of the day, nobody remembers that I beat Lewis on points. I only finished fourth, so no-man’s land.”
Finishing the season with one win and eight podiums overall, that is the stuff of dreams for many drivers, but for Russell, he wants much more than that.
The Brit can be forgiven for this mindset, considering that Mercedes had won eight Constructors’ titles in a row ahead of him joining the team, as well as seven Drivers’ crowns in that time.
“If someone had offered me a win, a pole position and eight podiums a year ago, I would have said: No, thanks,” said Russell.
“My ambition and that of the team are much higher than what we have achieved.”
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How will George Russell get on in a title-contending Mercedes?
That is the key question that the extremely talented Brit is yet to answer.
2022 was a woeful campaign by Mercedes’ standards, one where Hamilton looked out of sorts in the early stages, with Mercedes saying that their experienced battler was going through some extreme set-ups in pursuit of something that would unlock performance from the W13.
As the season marched on towards its conclusion, and the W13 became an overall more competitive package, we started to see Hamilton return to something near his best, but still, a W13 which had the performance to win races was a rare sight, Sao Paulo the only place where Mercedes were clearly the fastest team over a race distance.
The true test then for Russell would arrive if the Mercedes W14 is capable of a title challenge, at which point he would be required to achieve what only Nico Rosberg managed to pull off on one occasion in 2016, that being to make it a Mercedes driver other than Hamilton to taste title success in this turbo-hybrid era.
As we saw at Ferrari in 2022, Charles Leclerc rose to the occasion when the title was on the line for a time, while Carlos Sainz, despite outscoring him in 2021, spent much of the campaign trying to find a couple of tenths to be able to match his team-mate.
So, Russell will really need to find another gear if that W14 is title worthy, and he wants to make sure that it is he who rises to the summit, not Hamilton for a record eighth time.