Former F1 star Jarno Trulli has backed George Russell to take the fight to Max Verstappen in the F1 2024 season if Mercedes can produce a competitive car.
Russell enjoyed an impressive debut season with Mercedes in 2022, beating illustrious team-mate Lewis Hamilton to claim his first career victory in Brazil, but was restricted to just two podium finishes during a difficult 2023.
Despite suffering a first winless season in 12 years in 2023, Mercedes remain hopeful of returning to Championship contention in 2024 with technical director James Allison revealing the team intend to be “in with a shout” of winning both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ titles.
George Russell to challenge Max Verstappen for F1 2024 title?
Allison also claimed that Mercedes have established a “pretty ambitious” program for the new W15, which is expected to be a significant departure from the team’s last two cars under F1’s ground effect rules.
Speaking to Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport, former Renault and Toyota driver Trulli is excited to see how Oscar Piastri develops after a fine rookie year with McLaren in 2023.
And he believes Russell – not seven-time World Champion Hamilton, 39, who remains without a win since the penultimate race of the 2021 season in Saudi Arabia – could be the one to take the fight to Verstappen if Mercedes can return to winning ways.
He said: “As a surprise [for 2024] I say Oscar Piastri, because he has a potentially competitive McLaren and could confirm his talent after a very positive debut season.
“If the car is up to it, we could get used to finding him often on the podium. Today it is difficult to judge a youngster in the minor categories, there are too many factors influencing performance, so the real litmus test is only when he arrives in F1.
“The Australian has shown really good qualities. He is fast and quite consistent. To be able to evaluate him even better, one would have to see him fighting up there with the best.
“The confrontation in the team with an already established driver like Lando Norris will certainly be probing.
“Other possible surprises I don’t see. The unexpected outsider for the World Championship could be George Russell, if Mercedes will become competitive again and able to challenge Red Bull.”
Despite being convincingly outscored by Hamilton in 2023, Russell is adamant that the performance difference between the Mercedes drivers is miniscule.
He told the Telegraph in late 2023: “I’ve been on Lewis’s level, on average, throughout this year.
“And I’m not satisfied with just being on his level. I want to be ahead of him. But I’ve also got to be realistic.
“I’m going up against the greatest driver of all time. He’s definitely not a bad benchmark. And I think [in the] qualifying statistics, if you include sprint races, we’re exactly the same. And pace-wise, we’re generally the same as well.
“So there are positives. And to be honest I’d prefer to be sat here without the results, but with the pace.
“Rather than saying, ‘Oh, we lucked into a result here or we lucked into a result there,’ when actually I was a tenth or two off the pace.”