George Russell recalls being booed by F1 fans for the first time as a Mercedes driver

Thomas Maher
George Russell smiles after securing P2. Melbourne, Australia March 2023.

George Russell smiles after securing P2. Melbourne, Australia March 2023.

George Russell has said he found the experience of being booed by grown men unusual, having finally experienced it during a drivers’ parade in 2022.

Having spent the first three years of his Formula 1 career with Williams toiling toward the back of the grid, Russell’s low-key presence meant that he had did little to incur the wrath of fans of the sport.

But, having replaced Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes in 2022, Russell’s move toward the front of the grid meant suddenly competing for podium finishes and victories with the Brackley-based squad.

As a result, Russell got to experience a rite of passage for every front-running driver in the sport once they’ve become a ‘villain’ in the eyes of some. It was an experience that Russell said he found bizarre as he opened up in an interview with Square Mile.

George Russell ‘laughed off’ being booed by fans

“Last year, for the first time, I experienced some fans booing me on a driver’s parade,” he said.

“I’d never experienced that before. I’m a 24-year-old kid living his dream, just going out, working hard, trying to do his best, and you got these grown men booing you. I laughed it off, but it makes you think.”

With Russell and some of his grid rivals, such as Lando Norris and Valtteri Bottas, eager to get the message out to normalise discussions about mental health, particularly in a sport as demanding as Formula 1, the British driver elaborated on how he handles the pressures and who he reaches out to in order to maintain internal peace through the season.

“I speak to my friends, my girlfriend’s incredibly supportive, but also my trainer, Aleix Casanovas,” he said.

“I travel the world with Aleix, he’s been with me since 2017 now, so it’s our seventh year together, and he’s done every single race with me since that point. Just having him there as somebody who understands the journey, understands the pressures, that’s incredibly important.”

Russell highlighted how the biggest change wasn’t even so much becoming an F1 driver, but the move from Williams to Mercedes and finding himself propelled into the limelight.

“The things you say are now being picked up more by the media,” he said.

“Perhaps words may have been twisted or changed slightly, and people’s perception of you changes as well, so it’s just learning how to deal with that change because it’s not easy.”

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George Russell: Mental health an ‘incredibly important’ issue

Russell has become vocal on social media about the importance of mental health, with the Mercedes driver sharing videos on his own social media channels to talk about his own struggles with opening up.

Now engaged in a social media campaign with Meta to de-stigmatise the discussions of mental health struggles, Russell said he initially began researching the topic as a result of seeking greater performance.

“I think it’s an incredibly important issue,” he said.

“I started digging into the topic of mental health firstly for human performance, not to necessarily resolve any issues or to get anything off my shoulders, but it was to try and get more out of my professional life and my own personal performance.

“It was only after speaking with professionals and talking to people and taking advice that I realised taking care of my mental health was not only beneficial in my professional life, but it was also helping me on a personal level.

“I would walk away from a conversation feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt in a better frame of mind and a better place to tackle the day ahead or the next challenge.

“It opened my mind and I probably started to see things a little bit better in others, and perhaps the difficulties other people are going through which I may not have recognised initially, as well as the challenges of having the courage to talk to somebody about it.

“That’s why I’m working on this mental health campaign with Meta, posting a number of videos on Instagram, to encourage men to discuss their mental health and to try and get help if they need it.

“I think especially in men, there’s an element of personal pride, particularly in the old way of thinking, of being tough and just roughing it out, but that’s not necessarily the best way.

“We all need to be encouraged that there is no shame in talking to somebody. If I can use my platform to have a greater impact than just racing, then that fills me with pride to be able to do that.”