In the spotlight: George Russell
A talented young Brit has secured a 2017 GP3 seat - and also a plum job as a Mercedes-AMG junior
Until Jolyon Palmer signed on for another year at Renault, it looked as though Lewis Hamilton might be Britain’s only representative on the 2017 Formula 1 grid. Which prompted some to ask when the next home-grown talent would emerge.
The search wasn’t going to take long. Alex Lynn and Jordan King shared four wins in GP2 last season; four Brits scored victories in GP3 (as did Anglo-Thai Alex Albon) – and all finished inside the top 10 in the standings. And in F3, previously the yardstick for star potential, there were three winners.
George Russell is one of the latter and in January became Mercedes’s latest junior driver. His 2016 F3 season was underpinned by a win, pole and fastest lap at the uncompromising Pau. It ended with pole at the equally tough Macau, against some returning stars, too, before he topped the end-of-season GP3 test in Abu Dhabi. And there was a mid-season win at Spa. But that isn’t enough for a teenager who seems to leave a lasting impression on all he meets.
Having switched from superpower Carlin to returnee Hitech for his second F3 season, he says, “There were a few things that didn’t run as smoothly as they might. That’s normal. We all knew from the beginning to expect hiccups, but it was frustrating and set us back.
“I saw more potential with Hitech. And the move to a Mercedes engine was, I thought, a better package. It was a good link to be involved with Mercedes, who have helped on the engine side of things.”
Mercedes duly signed him alongside Esteban Ocon and Pascal Wehrlein as an official junior. “I’ve started doing some simulator work,” he says, “and it’s already clear to me that I’m working with people who are the best in the business.”
Pole at Macau was particularly striking – more than three tenths quicker than anyone else on the claustrophobic streets.
“Doing that against [Felix] Rosenqvist, [Antonio] Felix da Costa, [Daniel] Juncadella and [Alex] Sims, who have done it for so many years, was mega, an unbelievable feeling. It was a great experience just to drive around Macau. The circuit is something else and pole topped it off.
“I spoke to one of the FIA guys at the start of the year when Nelson Piquet Jr was banned from entering Pau, but I said that we needed to let the experienced drivers in for Macau. After all, if we beat them it looks even better for us.”
Next for Russell, as FIA European F3 champion Lance Stroll Verstappens his way into F1, is GP3 with ART. “It’s right for my career,” he says. “The cars have a lot more power. It needs a different driving style; the F3 is light so you can do what you like with it; with the GP3 you need to give it a lot more respect. You can’t make any errors: brake one metre too late and you’ve locked the tyres. If you get it right the rewards are big.”
Moving to GP3 will bring a brighter spotlight, but that in the DTM/F3 paddock could never be classified as dim. “I know the F1 teams watch GP2 and GP3. But DTM is a mega series with huge crowds; it’s been great to be part of that. You’re under the eyes of the DTM guys, and that doesn’t hurt.”
And DTM totem Mercedes has a big presence – as well as recent history with its junior drivers, having placed Wehrlein there until a suitable F1 berth materialised.
“DTM for 2018? Who knows. GP3 is where I’ll be next season but I’ll take it year by year. All I can do is focus on my driving and if I perform the future should be OK.”
It’s too soon to know whether an F1 seat will ever materialise, but he’s driven a McLaren after becoming the youngest winner of the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award.
“That was incredible, a massive achievement for me. It’s not every day you get to drive an F1 car. It’s what you dream about. Driving one means you just feel one step closer.”
That was 2015 – and he’s made further strides since.
Career in brief
Born: 15/02/1998, King’s Lynn, England
2014 Formula Renault 2.0 ALPS, (4th overall), BRDC F4 (champion, five wins)
2015-2016 FIA F3 (6th 2015, 3rd 2016)