Russell: Williams sale made Merc chance happen

Date published: January 14 2021 - Jon Wilde

George Russell

George Russell has indicated his chance to deputise for Lewis Hamilton in the Sakhir Grand Prix would have been vetoed before the Williams team was sold.

The 22-year-old British driver was called up by Mercedes to fill the breach in Bahrain after the seven-time World Champion had tested positive for COVID-19.

A frantic day of negotiations, in which Russell said he had been involved in 64 phone calls, ended with an agreement being reached for a race the Mercedes substitute would probably have gone on to win but for a pit-stop blunder by the team and a subsequent slow puncture.

But it was only thanks to the pragmatism of Williams’ new owners, Dorilton Capital, who bought the team in August and, according to Russell, were more amenable to him being ‘borrowed’ by Mercedes than their predecessors.

“Nobody could have predicted the events that happened,” said Russell during an interview with Autosport.

“Telling me in the middle of the year that I’d have been leading the race, and that I should have won a race this year, and starting on the front row…because I didn’t even think it would be possible to be. I didn’t even think it was possible to get the chance for Mercedes as a reserve driver.

“We’d spoken about this in the past and it was a ‘no go’. But fortunately, the new owners were very open and they wanted to give me that opportunity. Potentially, to see how I would perform as well.

“So I didn’t even think that possibility [was realistic] even if Lewis or Valtteri [Bottas] were to miss a race. I didn’t think it would be possible anyway.”

George Russell Mercedes

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Although missing out on a first F1 race victory – which Sergio Perez gained instead – was tough for Russell to take, he insists he is getting over it having had several weeks to reflect.

“It’s not eating me up inside because I see the race almost as a victory in itself with how everything panned out,” said Russell.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell myself anyway to get over the disappointment of losing it!

“I think the pit-stop fiasco almost gave me that opportunity to go out there and show what I can do in a very difficult circumstance, when the pressure is high.

“We had the race well and truly under control and then suddenly, I’m back in fifth and I’ve got my team-mate ahead of me in the same car as me, who I knew would be incredibly tricky to overtake.”

With Bottas even more inconvenienced by the double-stack pit-stop blunder as he ended up back out on the same set of tyres, Russell did get past him. He was closing on Perez for the lead until sustaining the puncture and after having to stop again, ended up finishing ninth.

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