George Russell has said the paddock perception of him changed following his Mercedes debut at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix.
The Mercedes junior got the call to replace Sir Lewis Hamilton after the now seven-time World Champion tested positive for Covid-19 and Russell almost marked his debut with a first-ever race win.
The racing gods were not with him that day, though, despite missing out, he still showed more than enough to make others stand up and take notice.
“I definitely noticed the difference around the paddock,” Russell told GQ magazine.
“More people noticed me and recognised me outside, too, in the airport and other places.
“It was huge, really, there was a lot of respect for me. It’s difficult to know how good somebody is when they’re at the back of the grid. That silenced the critics.”
Russell also recalled the emotions he felt when he realised his dreams of winning the race were dashed.
“Anybody in that situation would have had trouble keeping their emotions in order,” he said.
“I came back to the drivers’ room, threw everything down. I was speechless, to be honest, and very emotional.
“Then Toto [Wolff] and Bono [race engineer] came in.
“They said, ‘You were amazing. We’re so sorry. Your time will come again.
“I was obviously disappointed but equally incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity and pride in how the race went in such short notice in a car I’d never driven with no preparation.”
With Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas out of contract at the end of the season and Russell coming to the end of an initial three-year agreement with Williams, the stars could well be aligning for the Brit to become a fully-fledged Mercedes driver on a permanent basis.
If that was to happen, a succinct Russell said he would be able to remain grounded with his new-found fame.
He said: “I don’t get carried away with myself. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”