We recently sat down with George Russell to discuss a wide range of topics, here’s everything the Mercedes man said.
Into his fifth season of Formula 1, Russell has become one of top-performing figures in the sport but since making his long-awaited move to Mercedes, the 25-year-old has found life harder than he may have first expected.
PlanetF1.com was invited along with select media to sit down with the King’s Lynn man ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix to discuss a wide range of topics from on the track to his future at Mercedes.
George Russell on racing and F1’s health
Do you feel like you understand the regulations more this year than last year?
“I think every race that goes by we understand things further. We definitely made some wrong decisions over the winter last year that set us back quite a little bit. That’s why we’ve been playing catch up so far this season.
“But the second half of the season will be interesting. We’ve brought a few little things to the car that would, I hope, help us seal this P2 in the Constructors’ Championship. As I said, I think for most of the teams, the eyes are set on next year and try to maximise that.”
Does Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s domination reflect badly on F1?
“I think it’s definitely part of the nature of Formula 1. There’s always been dominance and probably a factor of their huge success has been reliability.
“Historically, when you look at how many cars used to break down in the 90s or the 80s, it was a hell of a lot more than what you see today.
“I think for probably 25 years now, there’s always been a team that has dominated during a certain period so it is definitely a bit of a shame.
“You can’t take it away from Red Bull, they’re obviously doing an amazing job and you need to give them credit for that.
“But as I said, it’s a shame because the fight for second at the moment between us, McLaren, Aston and Ferrari is actually really exciting. So I don’t know how you achieve that in the sport but that’s the goal for sure.
Can anyone catch up with Red Bull in these regulations? Charles Leclerc seemed to suggest no.
“I mean, when you look at the turn in form that Aston Martin had over last winter, the turn of form that McLaren has had, that definitely gives optimism that it can happen.
“Obviously Red Bull are going to continue to improve, it’s going to be difficult for sure. But you know, we saw Red Bull catch Mercedes in the Mercedes era in 2021 and that was sort of unforeseen as well as 2020 from Mercedes was a really dominant year. Then in 2021, Red Bull starts with the quickest car.
“We’ll be pushing for that but we’re not going to put any huge expectations on next year. We will sort of take it race by race, making sure we get all of the right information to make the best decisions possible between now and the Bahrain test next year.”
How has this season been on a personal note in terms of your driving?
“I think this season started off really competitively. I think the first six races, qualifying was a real strength of mine. Every session, Q1, Q2, Q3, I just felt confident and just pushed the car to the limit.
“Recent races have been a bit more challenging for me. I think we’ve made some wrong decisions with the set of directions we’ve been taking. I think this summer break was really important to take that reset and start again because you find yourself in a bit of a channel and you sort of keep following the same trends because you believe that it’s what’s right and what’s needed for the car.
“It’s only when you take one step up or step out and look at it with fresh eyes, you think actually we probably need to be in a slightly different channel to maximise it.
“Race pace has been really strong, qualifying has been a bit of a weakness recently. I’ve got ideas of how to improve that or what I need from the car to improve that.
“It’s been a bit of an up and down season, I’d say it’s not been clean or smooth whatsoever especially when compared to last year. The results just came in quite comfortably week in, week out. I think we were top five in 19 out of 22 races last year and that was with relative ease to be honest whereas now it’s been a bit more challenging.”
Are you the type of driver that likes to step back and analyse things?
“I think when I perform best it is when it just sort of comes to me and not over analysing things.
“It’s very difficult to not over analyse things when you’re slightly on the backfoot, if you feel like you need to do more to improve and work harder to find that solution.
“But sometimes, you need to take one step back to go two steps forward and focus on the simple things and that’s perhaps something where we’ve been focusing too much on the detail and slipping up slightly on the most simple things that deliver the most amount of performance.”
If Hamilton is a 100% competent driver, where are you on this journey?
“No idea to be honest! I think as a driver, every year is different. Every race is different.
“It’s not necessarily about honing your own skill, it is about adapting your own driving and your own skills to maximise the tyres, to maximise the car, to understand what you need from your team, what you need from your setup.
“You know, if a driver does a lap only at 90% but all of these other factors are perfect, he’ll be on pole position.
“But if a driver does his 100% best job, the best lap of every driver on the grid but the other factors aren’t right, you won’t be on pole position.
“So that’s the difficulty whenever anybody asks who’s the best driver in Formula 1? Nobody knows because it’s only when you’re in the same car, same conditions, that you truly know but that’s just the challenge with this sport.
Do you think you are driving the best you have in your career?
“I think I’d say at the start of this year I was, it definitely ran away from me slightly over the last few races. But I’m not stressed about it. I know where the mistakes that I made are and there is a reason for why I stepped back a little bit.
“As I said, going in with a fresh set of eyes now there are no concerns that the form will reappear. It’s always the way where things are a little bit more challenging. You’re pushing for more.
“We started this season on the backfoot. We wanted to be winning, we weren’t winning, and then you’re chasing unrealistic goals. It’s really sometimes you need to recognise if that is the maximum, it’s important to fulfil that potential rather than trying to overstretch, getting it wrong and actually being three positions further down.”
George Russell on life and the future at Mercedes
Mike Elliott and James Allison swapped roles earlier this year, how important is that to team success?
“I think that’s one of the strengths of Mercedes. By that I mean, when you look at the core of this team, whether it’s in the engineering, the design office, marketing department, it’s been the same team as it has been for 20 years or so long before Toto [Wolff]’s time and I think that’s where he’s done an amazing job is to grow the team and get in the right people in the right roles to excel at what they do.
“And as I said earlier in the year, Mike is one of the most intelligent and brilliant engineers I’ve ever come across. I think he’s definitely really suited to the new role that he’s in and we’ve got so many great people, it’s just making sure they’re in the right positions to bring the maximum to the team.”
What is on your wish list for Mercedes’ 2024 car?
“I think something we’ve been trying to improve a lot is just the through corner balance of the car. I think both Lewis [Hamilton] and I are searching for a bit more confidence and rear end in the car so that we can hit the ground running during a race weekend.
“I think that’s something that Red Bull have done a really great job of. Allowing their drivers lap one of the weekend to go out push to the limit and in little fear of crashing the car or spinning out.
“So that’s something where we’re targeting, just improving that balance. But there’s always marginal gains in many areas. If you can find half a tenth here, half a tenth there, suddenly, you can add that up to a large chunk of lap time. That’s just what we’re working for at the moment.”
Has your time at Mercedes’ matched the expectations you had when you were at Williams?
“I think the way in which the team has worked, and the sort of engineering brilliance I’ve seen, that has matched and probably exceeded my expectations in that regard.
“Obviously, the results haven’t matched the hope or expectations that I was, we, as a team, were expecting going into these two seasons.
“But I always knew when I signed in 2021, that there were no guarantees of success. It’s completely new regulations, new tyres and somebody may just get it right, somebody may just get it wrong.
“I always describe it as like a big oil tanker and if you’re pointing in the right direction, you’re going get to your destination quicker and if someone’s pointing the wrong way, trying to turn that ship takes time. We’re in that turning phase to try and point in the right direction.
“We think that we’re kind of in that right direction now to build upon.”
Have these years at Mercedes made you a better driver?
“I think every experience brings something new to the individual. I think the experience of winning is always going to bode well for the future. The experience of challenging times is always going to help for the future.
“There is no right or wrong. Every experience brings something to you as an individual, as a professional, as a human.
“You obviously dream of jumping in the car and just winning every single race but you know, it’s not like that for anybody. Even for Max, he spent three and a half, four years at Red Bull before he got his chance of truly fighting for a championship.
“The same as [Michael] Schumacher when he went to Ferrari. I think it was four years before he won a championship with Ferrari. Whereas we will look at him as the guy who was at Ferrari and dominant when everything took four or five years before he got that successful.”
How confident are you that it’s Mercedes that’s going to deliver a world championship?
“I’m very confident. I think if you’re within Mercedes or Red Bull, you can be very confident that if one isn’t winning, the other one is going to be right there and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“Everybody always says we want to be the fastest car, whenever possible to win and of course, you want to be in the fastest car but Mercedes were the ones who believed in me, they’re the ones who supported me.
“I feel almost like a duty to return their faith in me with loyalty, with delivering my best and ultimately delivering a championship with them. So that’s my dream and my goal.”
How long does that loyalty last?
“We’re on this journey and it’s like we’re bound to one another. As drivers you give the feedback, what you need and what you want from the car. The team are going out there to try and deliver that for you as the driver.
“You’re like a married couple, you’re in this together. Fernando [Alonso] is a prime example.
You can change team and you think you’re doing it for the right reasons, it may not work out.
“And then he joins Aston Martin, nobody expects anything, and then suddenly he’s been the second fastest car on many occasions this year and that was totally unexpected.
“So there’s always going to be these curveballs out there, one team gets it right or wrong in a given season.
“But I’m very confident Mercedes and also Red Bull, [it] doesn’t matter what’s thrown at them in terms of the regulations. They’re the places you want to be as a driver and I’m very happy.”
Do you want Hamilton to stay on as a team-mate? [Question was asked before both drivers signed a new deal.]
“I’d love for Lewis to stay because he’s obviously the greatest of all time.
“I learn a lot on and off track from him. He’s obviously a huge figure for the sport and it’ll be a shame to lose him anytime soon.
“I don’t think he’s got the motivation to stop anytime soon. I think he’s still hungry for more, I think he’s hungry to try and win more races.
“I’m hungry to achieve that and beat him and somebody asked me before, if Lewis wasn’t my team-mate, who would I want it to be? I said Max because when I joined Mercedes, Lewis was and still is the greatest driver of all time, and [back] then you would define him as the quickest and the best on the grid.
“And I got the chance to go head-to-head with him, still now week in, week out. So you want to put yourself against the best because I believe in myself and I proved to myself and the people around what I’m capable of and you gain that respect by competing against the best in the business.”
George Russell on life away from the track
Is there any update on whether Sebastian Vettel will continue in his GPDA director role?
“I think there were a few chats with Sebastian at the start of the year and I think it’s important for him to have some time off away from the sport.
“He’s got a few projects ongoing on the side and we’ll probably touch base again at the end of this year to see where he’s at with that.
“Ultimately, it’s totally in his hands. It’d be amazing for Sebastian to stay in the sport in some regard because he is a really brilliant person and has got a lot of great ideas and could do a lot of good for the sport.
“But equally, after some success and so long in the sport, he probably wants to spend a bit more time at home.”
As a director of the GPDA, do you feel more pressure on yourself?
”No, I think it’s almost like the spokesperson from the collective group and I think it is a very united group at the moment between all of the drivers.
“We talk regularly about certain issues or topics that we want to improve and not just necessarily in Formula 1 but in the sport globally.
“Ultimately, there doesn’t need to be somebody who’s the spokesperson to take that forward. But I’ve got a huge amount of help from Alex Wurz and Anastasia Fowle who, to be honest, do most of the heavy lifting. I’m just the one in the background to follow up and help where needed.”
Do the drivers have a group chat?
“Yeah we do have a group chat and sometimes it’s just memes. There’s a few unexpected people who send a few random memes!
“But it’s always good like whenever there’s something ongoing or there’s a delay or you know, something somebody wants to talk about or improve.
“There’s obviously a lot of changes going on with the sport at the moment with sprint races, the format, the alternative tyre allocation, the conditions, the safety aspect of things.
“Obviously, the wet is always a bit of a dangerous situation but we’re obviously finding ourselves in that situation almost week after week at the moment.
“So it’s more of a talking point, more of a topic but it’s never ending. If you fast forward 20 years, there’s still going to be concerns. It’s one of the things that you need to evolve, adapt to and I think our sport, it’s got to adapt at times and roll with it.”
What are the main things you are discussing?
“There’s three factors. One, you’ve got safety which is obviously, to a degree, quite self-explanatory, you want the circuits to be as safe as possible and not have unnecessary risks.
“There’s always going to be an element of danger and you want the cars to be as safe as possible naturally but you’re never going to be able to eliminate all of the risk.
“You’ve then got the on-track entertainment side of things and how exciting the races are/ Tyres are a factor with the degradation, the format, DRS positioning, etc, etc.
“Then you’ve got the third one, which is probably the least important [to everyone else] but to the drivers, it’s important.
“It’s about how it feels to drive the cars. We want the fastest cars, the best cars, the latest cars, the most amount of power and we think that would add to the spectacle.
“But you can’t often achieve all of these topics.
“I think generally speaking, Formula 1 is in a good place. If it wasn’t for the Red Bull’s dominance for the last 12 months, there has been quite a lot of exciting racing, close racing in good battles. That’s where it is at the moment for this fight for second, it is in a good place.
“Maybe the tyres have been a little bit too hard recently and it’s too many one-stops and not enough degradation to add a bit of spice in there but equally when the tyres are rubbish, we also complain. It’s trying to find that right balance and it’s never quite clear cut.”
How important is it for drivers to be role models?
“I think when you were a young child like myself, when I was eight years old, nine years old, 10 years old, dreaming of Formula 1, you’re not dreaming of the impact you can have as the individual, you’re just dreaming of racing cars, winning races and winning championships.
“But I think we all recognise the importance and the potential influence we have on people watching. I recognise I want to leave a positive message. I’m not actively, at the moment, at least, going out of the way to do all of these external activities to inspire others because I feel like my platform still isn’t great enough to have as much of an impact as the guys who are obviously winning, week in week out.
“I recognise that the greatest way to have an impact is to win because you’ll be growing your profile and this is really something I’ll think about when I’m in my 30s maybe, but for now, I’m very focused on the now, we’re very focused on trying to win, do the best job possible and, where possible, leave a positive impact for the supporters.”