‘Dark day’ taught Russell about F1’s ‘brutal’ side

Jon Wilde
George Russell's Williams during the Emilia Romagna GP. Imola November 2020.

Close-up of George Russell's Williams during the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Imola November 2020.

George Russell has reflected on the “dark day” with Williams that fortified his mentality as a Formula 1 driver.

The Briton was approaching the end of his second year with a team who were continually struggling at the back of the grid.

In the 2020 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, Russell was looking set to collect his first points for Williams when the race entered a Safety Car period.

Driving immediately behind the Safety Car at the time, Russell lost control and spun off into the wall, blowing his best chance of getting off the mark in what was his 34th F1 outing.

Three races later, Russell did score his first points, when called up by Mercedes to stand in for Lewis Hamilton who was sidelined by illness for the Sakhir Grand Prix – and he probably would have won that race but for a pit-stop blunder by the team and a subsequent puncture.

For 2022, Russell will be a full-time Mercedes driver after being promoted to the seat Valtteri Bottas has vacated.

In a video interview discussing his time with Williams, the 23-year-old spoke openly about how badly he had been affected by that day at Imola – which ironically was also the venue of another low point six months later when he collided with, of all people, Bottas.

Watching a replay of the incident behind the Safety Car in 2020, Russell said: “That was a dark day. That was a day I learned how brutal a Formula 1 car is.

“When you’ve got 1,000 brake horsepower underneath your right foot, you’re gone in a second and you can’t even control it. I hit a bump just as I was accelerating and the car just went. Within a second I was in the wall.

“I was in P10 at the time, we had obviously not scored any points…I was pretty mortified with myself. I felt like I had massively let the whole team down.”


But adverse moments are all about how you respond to them and Russell, who scored 16 points in 2021 and four top-10 finishes within five races, did so in exactly the right way.

“Without a doubt I grew as a person,” he added. “In an ideal world you want an easy path, you want things to come to you naturally.

“I’m so passionate about racing and that was probably one of the biggest mistakes I had personally made ever, but it made me stronger and more resilient.”


Russell picks out four brutal moments in F1 career

George Russell has picked out four brutal moments from his career.