George Russell is grateful Lewis Hamilton didn’t retire from Formula 1 after the 2021 season as that could have seen people blaming him for Mercedes’ step backwards in 2022.
Russell joined Mercedes last season, the Briton signed as Hamilton’s new team-mate having spent the first three seasons of his F1 career racing for Williams.
It wasn’t a dream start for the 25-year-old with the zero-pod W13 woefully off the pace. Although he was able to wrestle the car to the Sao Paulo Grand Prix win, his maiden victory in Formula 1, it’s fair to say it wasn’t the season he had hoped for.
This year isn’t shaping up to be any better with Mercedes’ W14 lagging behind the rampant Red Bull.
It has Russell saying his reputation was probably “saved” by Hamilton not walking away from the sport, as he had been rumoured to want to do, as that could have seen people blaming him for Mercedes’ struggles.
“For me, being team-mates with Lewis is such a golden opportunity,” he said in an interview with square mile. “Especially now that the car isn’t performing as we want.
“Having him as my team-mate has saved me in some regard, because if he had retired or left the sport when I joined the team, and we took this step backwards, people would be pointing the blame towards me!
“But I feel like now I’ve proven my worth and I’ve proven what I’m capable of, so there’s no pressure in that regard. I’m out there to do the best job possible and I think that is a very fortunate position to be in.”
Last season Russell became only the third team-mate in Hamilton’s F1 career to beat the seven-time World Champion in the standings, joining Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg on that list.
The former Williams driver made it clear at the time that wasn’t something to be proud of as in yesteryear beating Hamilton meant you’d be fighting for, and perhaps even winning, the Drivers’ title. But P4 to his team-mate’s P6 wasn’t something to aspire to.
“I’m not worried about any statistics or making sure that I’m on Lewis’s pace or whatever because I feel like I showed that last year,” Russell said.
“What a position to be in to go up against the greatest ever.”
This season Hamilton is leading Russell in the Drivers’ standings, the 38-year-old on 38 points to his team-mate’s 18 with Hamilton on the podium in Australia, a race where Russell retired with an engine failure.