George Russell: ‘I want to beat Lewis but that won’t make my season a success’

There is no doubting the intensity, the palpable will to win radiating from George Russell. Yet achieving success is a journey the British driver acknowledges is forged in the crucible of competition, where sometimes the hardest lessons are the most valuable. “I have learned that failure is important,” he says with the air of a veteran. “It can’t always be smooth sailing, you have to look inward rather than blame others.”

The 24-year-old is still a Formula One young gun, but his aquiline features and piercing gaze carry an authority beyond his years as he sits in his Mercedes team motorhome at Silverstone, preparing for Sunday’sBritish Grand Prix. The demands at his home grand prix are exhausting but there is no sense of weariness or that facing down a microphone is a chore.

He clearly still feels the privilege of his place in F1 but, vitally for someone who wants to be world champion, also the promise it holds. He smiles when reminded of how he would follow his elder brother to the karting track as a child and drive his pedal car round the paddock, and what a world away it was from Mercedes, from the 142,000 fans who will pack the old airfield on Sunday afternoon.

“It is always really important to take a moment to pinch yourself and recognise the position you are in,” he admits. “It is crazy to think how this journey has evolved. But you can’t sit back and relax. You can’t just say: ‘Wow, I’ve come so far.’ I have come so far but I’ve got so much further to go.”

The ambition is clear. This is his fourth year in F1, after he endured three years in a woeful Williams car outperforming his machinery. After stepping up to Mercedes this year he was optimistic of a winning car with the team who had taken the previous eight constructors’ championships. Fickle mistress as sport is, he and his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, instead have been wrestling with a ride that is a handful to drive, suffering from a severe bouncing issue and is off the pace.

Like the lessons from failure – he cites his crash with Valtteri Bottas at Imola in 2021 and the disappointment of being robbed of victory by a team strategy error and then a puncture at Sakhir when standing in for Hamilton in 2020 as examples –Russell is determined to grasp the positives from adversity.

“Winning is easy to a degree because everybody is happy and the team spirit is great,” he says. “Suddenly when you are dealing with all of these issues you have to dig deep and as individuals you learn a lot about yourself and about a group of people as well.”

Yet even in this challenging season, his first at the sharp end of the grid, he has delivered, something his team principal, Toto Wolff, has acknowledged. “We were never in any doubt that he would be very good,” he said. “You can see that it’s materialising on the track. I like his approach very much.”

The former driver Mark Webber also recognises Russell’s belief in his own abilities. “Going out on slicks [in the wet] in Canada, great call, have a crack son,” he said. “That showed a driver backing himself, confidence. That’s not a guy that is passive or indecisive, that’s someone who is prepared to take a risk.”

Russell has been relentlessly consistent this season, the only driver to have finished in the top five at every round. He has finished in front of his teammate seven times and leads him by 34 points. Hamilton has only been beaten by a teammate twice in his career, by Jenson Button at McLaren and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes. Russell’s numbers do not tell the whole story but they make for an impressive introduction to what should be a long career at Mercedes.

However he is level-headed enough to accept that while there is kudos in besting a driver as accomplished as Hamilton, there are no trophies for it.

“Obviously, I want to beat my teammate and I’m not going to take offence if he says the same,” he says. “But I would not see my season as a success purely because I’ve finished ahead of him more times than he had finished ahead of me. I would see it as a success if I was standing at the top step of the podium.”

Russell has a great admiration for Cristiano Ronaldo, citing the footballer’s singular commitment to being the best as an inspiration. He has been similarly full in his praise of Hamilton, but having grown up admiring him the nature of competition precludes a friendship.

“I guess if you took an average look across F1 teammates, that is probably the case,” he says. “There are a lot of people who get along in this paddock but overall, we are all fierce rivals. We are all here to be competitive and to try and win. You are in a battle.”

For one at the start of his career, there is a maturity and control to Russell in both character and driving that will be ominous to his rivals when he is in machinery good enough to challenge for a win. It is backed by that intensity, a commitment to give his all come what may. To race and have no regrets.

“Athletes have their career for 15 years and you have to make the most of it because once it’s over, it’s over,” he says. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who look back feeling like they have missed out. They took it for granted and felt like they could have done more. Every single race, every day you have to make it count.”