In a year that saw three exciting rookies step up to the F1 grid, joining some already immense young talent, the 2019 season proved that the future of the motorsport is in great hands.
One of these rookies was the Norfolk-born George Russell, who has been sat at the wheel of a racing car since the age of 8, and constantly impressed on his journey to F1. Throughout the 2019 season some disappointing performance issues for the Williams team often placed the young Brit towards the back of the twenty-car grid, from which he would fight to gain only a few places. Although often demonstrating great skill, Russell failed to finish in the points, even ending the season behind his teammate Kubica, whom he had out-qualified on all 21 race weekends.
From these disappointing results, it is easy to brush the 22-year-old under the rug regarding a future at one of the top competing teams. It should not be forgotten, though, that just a year earlier, Russell had been crowned Formula 2 Champion, beating his now-F1 rivals McLaren’s Lando Norris and Red Bulls’ Alexander Albon. His season with ART Grand Prix was extremely impressive, and at its conclusion he finished a whopping 68 points ahead of second place Norris. Surely this young driver was always destined for F1 success?
A year or so before, in early 2017, Russell joined the junior driver programme at Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, after the team spotted his great potential and immense speed and determination. This was a route which he likely hoped would see him fast-tracked into Formula 1 in the future. Following this signing, Russell was given numerous drives during F1 free practice for Force India, where he greatly impressed, and, throughout his winning F2 season, he also took up duties as a Mercedes Test Driver.
In October 2018, driven by his success in the almost complete Formula 2 Championship, Russell was offered a seat in Formula 1, driving for Mercedes-powered Williams alongside the returning Robert Kubica. Despite severe issues with the performance of the FW42, Russell demonstrated immense determination, continuing to fight for places and pushing the car to its limit. At the dramatic German Grand Prix he finished in 13th, before being promoted to 11th following a penalty given to the Alfa Romeo drivers. Another positive result came in Brazil where he crossed the line in 12th.
Clearly the young driver impressed, and rightly so. At the Pirelli Post-Season testing in December 2019, Russell was given the opportunity to drive the Mercedes car, and ended the day top of the time sheet, beating leading team drivers such as Leclerc, Sainz and Albon.
There is certainly a possibility that Russell’s talent will be elevated to a seat with the six-time World Champions at some point in the future. He is definitely the most exciting talent in their junior programme and has proved his pace in their car on multiple occasions. Although both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas did remain in their Mercedes seats for the 2020 season, it is safe to assume that they won’t stay there forever, with both perhaps nearing retirement having achieved great success at the team. Top youngsters Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc have both extended their contracts with their current teams for another three and four years respectively, and so when Hamilton and Bottas retire, it must be expected that Toto Wolff and his advisers will look down the grid to their sister team Williams. There, Russell is surely an obvious choice. It is possible Russell could be joined in the Mercedes team by fellow junior Esteban Ocon, depending how his season at Renault goes this year.
No one can deny that George Russell deserves a seat at a top team, having proved his pace and skill by triumphing in F2, and more recently his determination and resilience whilst driving in a struggling car. The next few years will be paramount in deciding his future, and with the talent that he has, it must be expected that he will gain that dream seat sooner or later.