Home » F1 Star George Russell on His Frustrating Season, Lewis Hamilton, and the Challenge of the Vegas Grand Prix

F1 Star George Russell on His Frustrating Season, Lewis Hamilton, and the Challenge of the Vegas Grand Prix

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An axiom in Formula 1 is that your teammate is your fiercest adversary, and so it would only be natural to feel intimidated if paired with Lewis Hamilton, arguably the greatest Formula 1 driver to date, certainly the winningest. Yet George Russell, now 25 years old, not only embraced the challenge but had more success than Sir Lewis in 2022, Russell’s debut year with Mercedes-AMG Petronas after racing the previous three with Williams and, prior to that, winning the Formula 2 Championship in 2018.

The 2023 season has not played out to his expectations though, despite his continued advancement as a racer in the top-tier of motorsport. Compared to his eight podium finishes last year, including a win at the Brazilian Grand Prix, this season has had him on the podium only once—for third place at the Spanish Grand Prix—while he sits in eighth place in the Drivers’ Championship standings with two races to go.

Shortly before the first practice session at the highly anticipated Las Vegas Grand Prix, Russell talked candidly with us about this season’s setbacks, what he feels is his greatest strength as a driver, and why he is “intrigued” by the race in Vegas on Saturday.

George Russell at the commemoration of the partnership between Mercedes-AMG, and its Formula 1 team, with watchmaker IWC at “Speed City” in Las Vegas on November 14.

In your opinion, what are some of the intangible keys to a successful Formula 1 team aside from financial backing, and how does Mercedes exemplify this?

I think the financial backing is only one aspect, because we’ve seen this in the past where teams have come in with unlimited resources, and haven’t succeeded in the sport. I think it’s vital to have a good leader. And then secondly, vital to have a great technical director who can then lead all of the brilliant designers and engineers on their journey. And finally, I think the communication and trust is very important because we need to put trust in those steering the ship. It doesn’t quite matter which direction you’re steering the ship, if everybody gets behind it, you can make that work. I think that’s where the teamwork is key.

Mercedes-AMG Petronas team principal Toto Wolff with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton during a preview of the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix.

Mercedes-AMG Petronas team principal Toto Wolff with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton during a preview of the 2022 Belgian Grand Prix.

What lessons and insights from your first season with Mercedes last year helped you this season?

Well, last season was a much more successful and competitive season for me, which is quite interesting because I feel that I have grown as a driver, grown as a as an individual. I feel that I’m actually performing stronger than I ever was last year, yet the results haven’t come. This has been for a number of factors. I never like to use the word “luck” because I always believe you make your own luck. You can have bad luck once or twice, but not 10, 11, 12 times, and we’ve had a number of bad results this year. I really need to dive into that over this winter to understand why that is. It hasn’t felt like it’s been through a lack of speed, it’s just been small errors week in and week out that have accumulated to those results.

Mercedes driver George Russell leads Red Bull's Sergio Perez and McLaren's Oscar Piastri during the 2023 Brazilian Grand Prix, though he didn't finish the race.

Russell leads Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and McLaren’s Oscar Piastri during the 2023 Brazilian Grand Prix, though he didn’t finish the race.

What has been the greatest challenge this year for the team as a whole, and for you personally from a driver’s perspective?

I think starting on the front foot is always very important. And for me, personally, I had quite a setback in Melbourne leading the race. We got unfortunate with a red flag when we were on the perfect strategy. We potentially lost out on a victory that weekend, at minimum a second place in the in race. That would have really set us up quite well, thereafter. There’s definitely more competition this year. We’re seeing McLaren come from nowhere. Aston Martin, at the start of this year, were fast from nowhere. And if it weren’t for Red Bull, we’d have an extremely exciting championship on our hands.

F1 driver George Russell looks on at his smoking car, which forced him to exit the 2023 Australian Grand Prix.

Russell looks on at his smoking car, which forced him to exit the 2023 Australian Grand Prix.

How does the actual racing differ from locations like Miami and Las Vegas compared to proper Formula 1 tracks like Monza or Circuit of the Americas? And how do you adjust?

I think it’s very important to have this diversity across the season. You can’t always have street circuits, you can’t always have permanent race circuits, because we have the best engineers in the business across Formula 1, and you wouldn’t learn how to solve those issues. We come to Las Vegas, and we’re dealing with a totally different scenario . . . you’re trying to consume as much information in the shortest period of time.

What are you most excited about as far as the Las Vegas Grand Prix, and what do you think will be most challenging?

I’m always excited to learn new circuits. You’re stepping into the unknown, it’s a new adventure you’re embarking on. But I’m really intrigued to see the show as a whole, there’s been so much hype and expectations. Vegas is a city that’s always booming; seeing the new Sphere, which is an incredible infrastructure and looks stunning with the artwork and displays that have been shown upon it every day. Seeing that right on the side of the race circuit is exciting. So I’m really intrigued to see what Vegas is bringing to Formula 1.

F1 driver George Russell drives along the Las Vegas Strip in 2022 at the official launch celebration for the city's Formula 1 race in 2023.

Russell drives along the Las Vegas Strip last year at the official launch celebration for the city’s Formula 1 race.

Do you think Formula 1’s exponential rise in popularity stateside is sustainable?

I definitely think it’s not only sustainable, I think it will continue to grow. I think it’s important that we have good racing, and good competition. This year, we’ve not seen that competition for victory. But if it wasn’t for the victory, we would be having a great season thereafter. It’s a very fine balance between what makes something really great versus somebody turning their television off on a Sunday afternoon. The people running Formula 1 are exceptionally intelligent, they know that you cannot plateau. Even when you’re on top of the mountain, you need to keep on climbing even if it seems like there’s nowhere else to climb. And I believe they can do that.

What makes you one of the world’s top racers, and what are some of the areas you feel you could improve on?

I think one of my strengths has always been adaptability. I wouldn’t say I have a specific driving style, I always like to adapt to whatever conditions and scenario I’m faced with. There are always areas to improve. The thing that makes Formula 1 exciting is that every year you’ve got a different race car, different tires, different engine, you go to races where the climates are different, which has a substantially different impact on the car’s performance. You only have to look at our performance in Brazil last week compared to Brazil 12 months prior. So you’re constantly on this learning process, and the weakness you may have one year may be a strength the following year, just because of what’s thrown at you. So that’s why I think being adaptable, having a toolbox of experience for you to tap into, regardless of the scenario, is most vital.

F1 driver George Russell acknowledges the crowd from the podium after he won the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix.

Russell acknowledges the crowd from the podium after he won the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix.

You and Lewis Hamilton seem to have great respect for each other. How would you describe the relationship?

Yeah, definitely. We have a huge amount of respect for one another. I think we have a strong relationship. It helps that we’re at different stages of our career. We’re on a very different journey at this stage. He’s accomplished so much, and I feel that I’m at the start of my journey. And we’re also in this together, trying to get Mercedes back on top. We obviously compete with one another week in and week out and we want to beat one another. But last year, I finished ahead of him in the championship, and that didn’t really mean anything. This year, he’s finished ahead of me. We’re here to fight for victories. We’re here to fight for championships. We’re here to win, and that’s what we’re passionate about.

F1 drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton take a selfie at the launch celebration for the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix.

Russell and Hamilton take a selfie together in Las Vegas, back in 2022, during an exhibition promoting this year’s grand prix there.

How do you stay fit, mentally focused, and driven during the off-season?

I like to learn new activities during the offseason because I feel like it keeps the senses alive. I’m not one that likes to just sit on a beach and keep my feet up and do nothing. There’s definitely a time and a place, I can do that for a day, maybe. But I want to stay active, I want to stay fit. I’m so hungry during that off-season because we all go back to zero. You recognize it’s a totally new opportunity for you to have a great season. It’s a new chance, a fresh slate. It’s an exciting time to rebuild those foundations and lay the groundwork ahead of the upcoming season.

F1 driver George Russell models IWC's new Pilot's Watch Performance Chronograph 41.

Russell models IWC’s new Pilot’s Watch Performance Chronograph 41.

What makes Mercedes-AMG Petronas and IWC an ideal fit as collaborators?

What I love about the partnership with Mercedes-AMG and IWC is that long-standing loyalty between the two brands, and loyalty is a huge value that I hold. But on a more technical basis, precision, speed, performance, luxury, these are all values that both brands hold. Walking into the factory in Schaffhausen, the headquarters, is like going into a Formula 1 team’s, the cleanliness, the design office, the attention to detail. Even some of the machines are the same machines. The two brands have so many synergies.

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