George Russell says it is “surreal” knowing next year he will be the team-mate of a driver whose autograph he treasured.
As a boy with dreams of becoming a Formula 1 racer himself, Russell waited patiently to get the signature of “superhero” Lewis Hamilton.
At the time, Hamilton had won one World Championship. When the 2022 season begins, he could have a record-breaking eight titles – and will have Russell alongside him in the Mercedes team.
Asked how it will feel to be Hamilton’s team-mate, Russell told Channel 4: “Surreal is really the word.
“I remember that day so vividly, waiting to get his autograph, because when you are a young go-kart driver and you see a Formula 1 driver, that’s like a superhero to you.
“And it was so special seeing a guy like Lewis, who had already won a championship, who was one of the biggest names in Formula 1 at the time.
“And here we are, 10 years later or more I guess…really surreal.
“But as you grow up, you realise everyone in this paddock are not superheroes, they are normal people who are incredibly talented.”
Russell used the word ‘surreal’ again to reflect his emotions on securing a race seat at Mercedes, who have managed his career for the last five years. In the latest three of those, he has been ‘on loan’ at Williams.
“Definitely relief and excitement,” he said were his overriding feelings. “I guess it’s also pretty surreal to be honest because I’ve been part of Mercedes for so long.
“I joined in 2016 as a junior driver, then I went on to do the test driving, reserve driving and they helped me on my way into Formula 1 with Williams.
“And even throughout that time they have managed me, so they really are a family to me, as the guys at Williams are too, and it almost feels like going back to where I began and doing a full circle.”
Get me to Turkey already! pic.twitter.com/xRGuyZvjvu
— George Russell (@GeorgeRussell63) October 4, 2021
Russell’s promotion, which has come at the expense of Valtteri Bottas, who leaves the team after five years, is vindication of the career path on which Mercedes placed him provided he could show he had the capability to take full advantage of it.
“We signed a three-year deal with Williams, and Mercedes and Toto [Wolff] have always been straight with me,” added the 23-year-old Briton.
“They said ‘if you perform, the opportunity will come’, and that was the case when I raced in Formula 3, GP3, Formula 2.
“If you win GP3 they said ‘you will get F1 tests and you will race in Formula 2′.
“‘You win Formula 2 and you will get an F1 seat, and then do the three years at Williams and if we think you’ve done a good enough job, the chance at Mercedes will be there’.
“So they never let me down in that regard, and it almost took the pressure off me that I could only focus on the racing and go out and say ‘as long as I perform on the track, everything will work out for the best’.”
Russell has already driven a Mercedes competitively once, standing in for Hamilton in Bahrain last December, when only bad luck, none of it his own making, denied him a remarkable victory.
“Probably since that Sakhir Grand Prix last year, I said ‘right, I had an amazing opportunity there, it went relatively well, now I can jump back in the Williams, just keep driving to the best of my ability and then the opportunity should come at the end of the year’,” he said.
Now that it has, what is his focus for the remainder of 2021?
“Definitely 120% focus on Williams because we have a job to finish,” he confirmed.
“We are currently P8 in the Constructors’ Championship, which is huge for the team considering we were last for the last three years before this.
“So we need to absolutely seal all that, and I guess when the flag drops in Abu Dhabi that’s when the focus will shift.
“I’m glad it’s out in the open, it’s clear what the future holds and now I can enjoy the rest of the season and finish on a high because that’s what the team deserves.”
George Russell needs to shake off 'surreal' Lewis Hamilton feeling
George Russell says the fact he's joining Mercedes and driving alongside Lewis Hamilton next year is surreal, which is understandable, but a feeling that he'll need to shake off quickly.