As only the third team-mate ever to beat Lewis Hamilton in the Drivers’ standings, George Russell says that’s something he would have been “proud” of at the start of the season as it would have most likely meant he was World Champion.
But, given Mercedes’ struggles this season, it instead meant a P4 to his team-mate’s P6 in the standings.
Mercedes’ first season with the all-new ground effect aerodynamic cars did not go to plan, the Brackley squad producing a porpoising W13 that made life hard for the drivers.
While Red Bull and Ferrari raced for victories and the championship lead, Mercedes set about resolving their bouncing issues and only then were they able to upgrade the car with performance in mind.
They closed the gap out on track towards the end of the season, but it wasn’t enough, the Brackley squad’s reign as Constructors’ Champions ending with Red Bull taking up the mantle.
As for the Drivers’ title, that went to Max Verstappen for the second year running, Russell the best-placed Mercedes driver in fourth place.
He finished 35 points ahead of Hamilton, only the third time in the 37-year-old’s F1 history that he has lost to a team-mate.
Russell says that has lost some of its shine with their P4 and P6 results.
“If I had been told that at the beginning of the season, I would have been incredibly proud and happy,” he admitted. “After all, nine times out of ten, when you finish ahead of Lewis Hamilton, you probably become World Champion.”
Backs Lewis Hamilton to bounce back
Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff called Russell’s win of his team-mate “irrelevant” after all they are ” not racing for a World Championship, they haven’t raced for victories apart from Brazil.
“I don’t think that for any of the two it matters whether they finished second, third, fourth or fifth.”
The Austrian also applauded Hamilton as he “held us up at times”, Mercedes having noted a few times this season that most of the experimental work with their onion of a car was carried out by Hamilton.
Russell reckons it will be difficult to beat his team-mate again next season.
“I think in a season like this when the car isn’t working we’ve all had our own difficulties,” said the 24-year-old. “I’ve no doubt that he’s going to be probably back to his normal level next year.
“I think he had a very difficult start to the season when things weren’t really going smoothly for him, and they were probably going a bit smoother for me.
“That kind of swung around a little bit [in] the second half of the season, but looking back on the season as a whole, it probably balanced itself out.”
Race win ticked off, next goal is the title
There was one notable high point in Russell’s first season with Mercedes: the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
He not only won the sprint race to book pole position for the grand prix but followed that up with the win on the Sunday, his first-ever in Formula 1.
He led home a Mercedes 1-2 on the day, but alas was handed a reality check one week later with a P5 in Abu Dhabi.
“We are proud of what we achieved [in Brazil], but I’m here to try and become World Champion, and we’ve got a long road ahead of us,” he added.
“For sure, it’s good to to get it off your back, but you’re only as good as your last race and the last race was here in Abu Dhabi.
“We finished fifth [in Abu Dhabi] and fourth in the championship.
“We’re going to look back with a lot of pride on the season but, equally, knowing there’s a lot to improve if we want to fight with Max.”