While George Russell appreciates Max Verstappen tipping him as a potential F1 World Champion, the Mercedes driver concedes there are a “handful of drivers on the grid right now” who could do it.
Joining Mercedes last season as the Brackley squad looked to recover the World title having lost it to Verstappen in 2021, Russell’s chances were undone by a porpoising W13.
He did manage to record his first grand prix win, P1 in Sao Paulo, but finished the season in fourth place with a deficit of 179 points to Verstappen.
This season he’s once again having to contend with an under-performing car, Mercedes’ W14 struggling with a lack of rear grip and also downforce, with Russell scoring just 18 points in the first three races.
But despite the scorecard, his fellow drivers Verstappen and Lando Norris have tipped him as a potential F1 World Champion in the years to come.
“Yeah, I mean obviously it’s always nice to hear positive things being spoken about you,” he told Square Mile when their comments were put to him.
“But,” he continued, “there’s probably a handful of drivers on the grid right now who are all World Champion worthy, some of which are already World Champions, some of which haven’t won World Championships yet and would definitely win a world championship if they were in the right car at the right time.
“As to what I can do to give myself the best chance, it’s just about continuing to work and keep on pushing, never giving up and ultimately making sure that I’m ready to fight when you’ve got that machine beneath you that’s capable of winning.
“I hope that comes sooner than later, but I believe I’ve got a good 15 years left in me and I’ve got to keep on working on my fitness, keep on working on my race craft, keep on working on how I work with my team to make sure that if my opportunity is tomorrow, I’m ready tomorrow.
“If my opportunity is in three, four, five, or even ten years, so be it.”
What did Verstappen and Norris say about Russell?
Although reigning F1 champion Verstappen has been on the Formula 1 grid four years longer than Russell, the two competed against one another during their younger days in karting.
Impressed by what he saw back then, the Dutchman believes Russell has the capability to claim a title in Formula 1.
“George is part of the generation with Lando and Charles [Leclerc] and me that grew up together,” Verstappen told the Daily Mail earlier this season.
“I raced against George a bit in karting, though he’s a year younger. You could see straight away he was good.
“It came naturally to him – he didn’t need a lot of laps to be quick. He has the potential to be a World Champion.”
As for Norris, TalkSPORT asked him to name rivals on the grid who he believes could one day challenge for a championship.
He immediately replied: “You could say George.”
Russell says he’s ready to fight, he just needs the car
Russell’s boss Toto Wolff has also backed his driver to fight for a title, calling him a “champion in the making” before adding that the team would “have never put him in a Mercedes if we didn’t believe he can be a future World Champion.”
But while the driver may be capable, today’s car is not.
Lagging behind the Red Bull in both cornering and straight-line speed, Mercedes are set to introduce radical changes in the coming weeks but even then they’ll have a lot to learn about the overhauled package before they can even think about mounting a title challenge.
Russell says when Mercedes get it right, he’ll be ready.
“I think I’ve got enough experience now that I feel ready to fight for a championship and be able to handle the challenges and difficulties that come with it,” Russell told Racer.
“Obviously the likes of Lewis and Max have more experience in that scenario. But if you go out and you put it on pole and win every race you will be World Champion. So you have just got to focus on smaller details and it’s in your own hands, almost.”