‘Impossible’ for non-Merc/RB driver to win on merit

Jamie Woodhouse
George Russell on media duty before the Hungarian Grand Prix, August 2021.

George Russell in a press conference prior to the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix race weekend getting underway. August, 2021

George Russell says unless a driver is behind the wheel of a Mercedes or Red Bull, winning without any luck is impossible.

The budget cap has been brought in to try and level the playing field somewhat in F1 with Mercedes and Red Bull having established themselves as the clear leading teams, while with the new cars for 2022 it is hoped it will shrink some of those gaps between the 10 outfits.

But both of those major changes will take time to settle in and so Mercedes and Red Bull, while now closer to the midfield, are still the fastest teams on the grid.

For a shock result then, Formula 1 has relied on a bit of chaos and that is exactly what happened in Hungary with Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll triggering separate car collisions at Turn 1.

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon went on to win that race, while Russell joined his Williams team-mate Nicholas Latifi in a shock double points finish.

But Russell has made it clear such results cannot happen in Formula 1 without those kind of circumstances.

“Of course I miss the champagne. Since I was eight, it’s only been about one thing in my life – victories, take pole and win,” he told NOS when asked if F1 has been a cold shower after his trophy-filled junior career.

“I’ve done everything I can to make it to Formula 1 and that dream has come true, but victories are impossible at the moment.

“Only four drivers can now win on their own in Formula 1: [Lewis] Hamilton, [Max] Verstappen, Bottas and [Sergio] Perez.

“If you’re not in a Mercedes or Red Bull you have no chance, even if you’re the best driver. In my current car I finish around 10th place after a flawless, top race.

“Nevertheless, I’m happy and proud. It’s a privilege to be one of the 20 drivers in this sport.

“I had to get used to the atmosphere. Formula 1 is incredibly businesslike. Everyone has agendas and is constantly working on obligations. You’re alive. In the boarding classes and in my karting time we had a lot more time for each other. I do miss that.”

Russell suspects that even with the regulation changes for 2022 there will still be “rich top teams”, but hopes the gaps throughout the grid can be narrowed to the stage where a podium is possible for anyone.

“That’s the purpose of the 2022 regulations. It will be a drastic change and the sport needs it,” he said.

“The rear division now loses two seconds per lap. That gap has to decrease. It would be nice if it became half a second.

“You will always have rich top teams, but the aim is for even the slowest car to be fast enough for a podium finish.

“I’m really looking forward to 2022. The Formula 1 management know very well which way it should go. The cars will be slightly slower, but we will have a lot more overtaking manoeuvres and duels. Everything is geared towards that. Drivers should make the difference, not their cars.”

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For now though, Russell must watch on as Mercedes’ Hamilton and Red Bull’s Verstappen battle over the 2021 Drivers’ Championship.

But asked to take his pick on who he would like to emerge as World Champion, Russell did not want to pick a side.

“No. Lewis is an amazing driver and one of the cleanest racers in our sport. He deserves all the respect and credit, but I also wish Verstappen the title,” he responded when asked if he is backing either driver.

“His first half of the season is convincing. Max could have won all the races if things had gone differently. He deserves this success.

“Max has been performing at an ultra-high level for so long and always had a car that was just not good enough.

“That’s the annoying thing about Formula 1 today. You saw it last season – in a Mercedes I drive at the front and a week later I’m at the rear with Williams. And it’s not because I’ve lost my touch.”