After just one season with Williams in Formula 1, George Russell looks set to hit the heights having starred throughout his junior career. MARCUS SIMMONS picks out Russell’s top 10 races so far
He’s only had one season in Formula 1, but George Russell’s junior career has been peppered with outstanding performances.
The 22-year-old will surely add to this list in the years to come, but Autosport took the chance to talk to Russell to work out which of the rising star’s races have stood out so far.
So, here we present his best 10, with some help from Russell himself.
10. 2014 Snetterton finale, BRDC Formula 4
In his rookie season of car racing, Russell entered the BRDC Formula 4 Championship triple-header finale at Snetterton as one of six drivers in contention for the title. That had been reduced to four before the deciding race, but Russell faced a 13-point deficit to Lanan Racing team-mate Arjun Maini.
The 16-year-old Briton was on pole, but had been making poor starts all weekend – “My right foot,” was his forlorn explanation to Autosport’s Scott Mitchell.
Sure enough, Russell was again tardy off the line, and was swamped by the other two title contenders, Raoul Hyman and Sennan Fielding. He cheekily edged Fielding to the grass, and settled into second place behind Hyman.
With Maini lying fifth, that was enough to give the Indian the crown, so Russell had to take action. He forced Hyman to defend into the Agostini left-hander, allowing Russell to get the cutback and sweetly dive into the lead at the following Hamilton – not a traditional passing place at Snetterton.
A series of super-fast laps moved Russell clear and, with Maini failing to progress from fifth, the title was his by three points.
9. 2015 Silverstone race two, FIA Formula 3 European Championship
Russell’s 2014 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award prompted a change of focus for 2015, with the decision taken to enter the FIA Formula 3 European Championship with Carlin rather than attack the Formula Renault Eurocup.
Heavily damaging a chassis in pre-season testing at Pembrey didn’t help, but Russell was on form for the opener on home ground at Silverstone – a circuit where Carlin always went well.
A collision with fellow F3 debutant Charles Leclerc in the opening race bent a wishbone on Russell’s car, but he made a stunning recovery from 18th to eighth. With clear title favourite Felix Rosenqvist banished to the back of the grid for the remaining races thanks to what was widely regarded as overzealous scrutineering (a missing screw caused a front-wing endplate to flex beyond the permitted width), that put Leclerc on pole for the second stanza, with Russell alongside.
Leclerc didn’t get the best start, allowing Russell and Antonio Giovinazzi to run abreast away from the line. A bump between Carlin team-mates Russell and Giovinazzi bent the Italian’s steering, before Russell put in an exquisite drive to beat Leclerc and win on his debut F3 weekend.
After Leclerc won the weekend finale, Autosport’s Marcus Simmons pondered: “Are Russell and Leclerc the new [2014 F3 title contenders] Ocon and Verstappen? For championship interest, yes. But the ominous form of Rosenqvist and Giovinazzi suggests that question is far from being answered.”
Sure enough, Russell never won again in 2015, Leclerc also faded in the season’s second half, and Rosenqvist beat Giovinazzi to the crown.
8. 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, Red Bull Ring
It wasn’t an auspicious start, and Russell finished 18th out of 20 at the Red Bull Ring, but what was really impressive was that he fell just three seconds short of lapping Williams team-mate Robert Kubica, who had no problems at all bar briefly running wide.
Russell had to start his Williams-Mercedes FW42 from the pitlane. He’d already picked up a grid penalty for impeding Daniil Kvyat in Q1 and then, when Williams spotted damage to his front wing, the team had to change the entire assembly because it didn’t have a spare of the same specification. Hence the pitlane start.
Russell soon passed Kubica and, more impressively, Kvyat, keeping himself ahead of the Toro Rosso for 11 laps before he was repassed.
From then on it was a case of maximising what he had in the face of little outside help. There were no retirements, and it was only a scrappy race for Haas driver Kevin Magnussen that promoted Russell one more position.
7. 2018 Red Bull Ring race two, FIA Formula 2 Championship
Russell had taken his fourth win of his rookie Formula 2 season in the feature race at the Red Bull Ring, but it’s his sprint-race performance that put the icing on the cake and also elevated him above Lando Norris into the championship lead.
Victory in F2’s Saturday races puts you eighth on the grid for the reversed-grid Sunday counters. There’s always a chance that a strong start can lift you two or three places from the off – but not when the ridiculous spate of clutch dramas forced F2 organisers to introduce a single-file rolling start…
Russell gained one place when Roberto Merhi’s clutch problems meant he couldn’t even get out of the pits, then committed what Autosport’s Jack Benyon described as “an audacious move” to pass Norris for sixth at Turn 1. One by one, he picked off Antonio Fuoco, Alexander Albon, Sergio Sette Camara and Tadasuke Makino so that he was second by the end of lap seven.
Just as impressively, Russell had preserved his tyres while Norris ruined his and slid out of the points. Only Artem Markelov – a renowned maestro of Pirelli preservation – proved out of reach.
“Despite two feature-race wins and a sprint success before arriving in Austria, mechanical, set-up or on-track issues had robbed him of a truly brilliant all-round weekend – until now,” marvelled Benyon.
6. 2016 Macau Grand Prix
This was a qualifying effort rather than a race – but what a performance.
Russell had been forced to sit out the 2015 Macau GP in his rookie F3 season with Carlin. The team left him out of its squad for the trip east owing to his overtures from Hitech GP, run by Oliver Oakes, who had raced with Russell’s big brother Benjy in karting.
So, after a 2016 season in European F3 with Hitech, Russell made his debut on the Guia circuit – and it was the team’s first visit too.
Russell had already set a lap good enough to beat eventual winner Antonio Felix da Costa to pole when he unleashed a mighty effort, as drizzle fell and the light faded. “His sector two time, from before the braking area for Lisboa to the downhill exit from Melco, was 0.415s quicker than next-best da Costa,” wrote Autosport’s Marcus Simmons. “And it was half a second faster than anyone had ever gone around the Macau mountain in the current 2012-spec Dallara.”
Hitech got it wrong in the races, with Russell and Daniel Juncadella fading to seventh and eighth, but the Brit had proven why he had been signed up as a Mercedes junior – a story that Autosport unearthed that weekend!
5. 2014 Jerez finale, Formula Renault Eurocup
Russell had been combining a Formula Renault ALPS programme with his BRDC F4 campaign in his rookie season of car racing. This should have been with Prema Powerteam, but the deal was vetoed by Prema part-owner Lawrence Stroll and Russell was forced into a last-minute liaison with Koiranen GP. A nasty bout of chicken pox didn’t help either, and the youngster could only occasionally challenge champion Nyck de Vries and runner-up Charles Leclerc.
A one-off foray into Renault’s premier Eurocup at Moscow Raceway netted little, but he was invited by Tech 1 Racing to contest the final round at Jerez. He had never driven the French team’s car, and Andalusian fog restricted him to just 30 laps in free practice.
Even so, Russell qualified sixth and finished fifth in the opener on Saturday, before putting what he’d learned into practice on Sunday. He proved a point by beating Koiranen driver de Vries – who had dominated the Eurocup season as well as the ALPS campaign – to pole in his qualifying session by 0.070s, with Albon topping the other qualifying group to take the remaining front-row slot.
De Vries moved forward to attack Russell in the race, but the leader edged away before a safety car. Autosport’s Glenn Freeman wrote that “after some strong defending from Russell following the restart, the McLaren junior had to settle for second”.
Just one week later, Russell became BRDC F4 champion, and a few weeks after that he was named as the 2014 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner.
4. 2017 Jerez race two, GP3 Series
Russell’s GP3 victory over ART Grand Prix team-mates Jack Aitken and Anthoine Hubert in a slipstreaming Monza thrillfest only just fails to make this list, and paradoxically it’s the following round – at Jerez – that does, even though he failed to win.
Heading into the weekend, Russell was aiming to put the title beyond the reach of fellow Brit Aitken with one round still to follow, in Abu Dhabi. And it was terrifically hard-but-just-the-right-side-of-fair racing that allowed him to do so, proving Russell had an iron streak of ruthlessness.
He had already upset Aitken with a harsh move to take second in the opening race behind team-mate Nirei Fukuzumi, Autosport’s Alex Kalinauckas writing that “he muscled his way by in a forceful move”.
Russell did it again in the reversed-grid race with a fierce manoeuvre to take fourth from Aitken. Now in clear space, he set the fastest lap – and earned the two points for that – to clinch the championship.
As a result, Mercedes gave him Formula 1 FP1 outings at the Brazilian and Abu Dhabi GPs with Force India – his arrival in the top echelon of the sport.
3. 2019 Monaco Grand Prix, Monte Carlo
Such was the bizarre nature of the Monaco GP that a rookie driving the worst car on the grid was the fastest man on track for a spell.
Following a safety car for Leclerc’s puncture debris, Russell and his Williams-Mercedes gained nearly four seconds on leader Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes from laps 16 to 21, during which period nobody was quicker.
Granted, Hamilton was on a mission to nurse his Pirelli tyres to the end, having pitted under the safety car on lap 11 – but so was Russell, who’d pitted one lap earlier!
After that spurt, Russell ran onto the back of a huge midfield train headed by Norris, whose McLaren’s slow pace reflected the fact that he was still on the tyres on which he’d started. Until then, Williams felt Russell could be on for a top-six finish.
By now a lap down, Russell showed more sparkling pace during the final stages. Over the last 23 laps, he lost just three seconds to winner Hamilton, and was still on the same tyre strategy. It may have been a defensive coast for the Mercedes, but for the Williams to do the same pace it was, reckoned Russell, 30 to 40 qualifying-style laps in an exhilarating race.
2. 2018 Baku race two, FIA Formula 2 Championship
The unreliability of the new F2 cars had scuppered Russell at the opening round in Bahrain. When the field moved to Baku for round two, Russell was leading at a safety car restart when an optimistic move from de Vries ruined his feature race.
“Like a shih tzu on laminate flooring, de Vries had no grip and began to run wide,” wrote Benyon of the incident, which forced Russell into evasive action and into the runoff area, where he came to a halt just before he hit the barrier.
That meant ART Grand Prix driver Russell started 12th for the Sunday race, but he put in an astonishing drive to take his maiden F2 victory.
He was already up to fifth by the end of lap one. Several laps in, he passed Ralph Boschung, Norris and Nicholas Latifi on successive tours to move up to second.
With 12 laps remaining, Russell was 4.3s adrift of leader Sette Camara, but he chipped away at the gap. To no one’s surprise, he showed greater mental fortitude than the Brazilian and grabbed the lead with five laps to go.
The win was the launchpad for Russell to become F2 champion.
1. 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring
Just 0.053s separated Russell from a place in Q2, and he arguably could have pushed the recalcitrant Williams-Mercedes FW42 into that exalted height had it not been for a slightly tail-happy moment out of the final corner that cost him speed onto the straight to start the lap.
Russell ran as high as 13th during the opening salvos of the race, but it wasn’t going to be possible to keep the Williams in that lofty position at the Hungaroring, where overtaking is tricky but not an insurmountable task.
Nevertheless, he finished 16th of the 19 who made it to the flag, beating not only team-mate Kubica but also ex-Formula 3 rivals Lance Stroll (Racing Point) and Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo).
It was a performance that encouraged Autosport’s Edd Straw to award Russell the only 10/10 rating of a race that was most famous for its strategic battle between Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
“He hauled the FW42 to hitherto unseen heights in the race,” wrote Straw in admiration.