George Russell has revealed how one phone call in 2016 whilst he was in the bath at his parents’ house started his career with Mercedes.
The British driver was racing in F3 at the time and, after accepting that he lacked the backing to get into Formula 1, he was ready to take the big money on offer to sign with BMW and race in DTM.
But in January of 2016 Esteban Ocon’s manager Gwen Lagrue started working as Mercedes’ Driver Development Advisor and he had a top target in mind.
That top target was Russell, and the call certainly came out of the blue, both in terms of the timing since he was in the bathtub at his parents’ house, but also because he had pretty much dropped the hopes of getting into Formula 1.
Speaking on the Beyond The Grid podcast, Russell said: “I’d actually been unofficially the reserve driver for BMW in DTM.
“I did a rookie test with them and that went incredibly well, and I was on the verge of signing a full-time race seat deal with them in the DTM [for 2017].
“By this point, I’d sort of accepted I didn’t have any backing to help me get to Formula 1. At the time, none of the Formula 1 teams were overly interested and I was pretty settled to say, this is DTM, it was a huge salary, it’s probably the next best thing to Formula 1 and I was committed to going down that route.
“One day I was just laying in the bath and I got a phone call from a French guy called Gwen Lagrue… He said to me, ‘Hi George… I’ve just started working with Mercedes and you’re the first guy I want to sign.’ And that’s where it started, in the bath back in 2016! The conversations were ongoing, I signed a contract that started in 2016, and officially became a driver at the start of 2017.”
3 great Saturdays. 3 tough Sundays.
Bring on the next 3, starting at home 🇬🇧💪 pic.twitter.com/sTgPGxl5mQ
— George Russell (@GeorgeRussell63) July 19, 2020
Russell immediately proved Lagrue right by winning the GP3 and F2 titles back-to-back in 2017 and 2018, before signing his first Formula 1 deal to race for Williams in 2019.
And even though Russell is yet to score a point in the series, largely due to Williams’ struggles to compete with the other teams, he impressed enough to be in with a shout of driving for Mercedes in 2021.
Ultimately the team chose to stick with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.