Russell's rapid rise and fall: 2020 F1 season draws to a close

Formula 1 can be a cruel sport. When it gave a promising Briton a dream chance, only bad luck prevented an historic upset. Mark Hughes looks at the factors behind George Russell’s superb Mercedes cameo

George Russell in the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

When Hamilton was struck by Covid, Russell got the dream call-up to handle the champion’s car

Dan Isitene/F1 via Getty Images

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George Russell travelled to the season-ending Middle East triple-header more in hope than in expectation. Williams had provided him with a better car in his 2020 sophomore season than it did for his rookie year, when it invariably wasn’t even able to compete with the next slowest car and his only competition was with his team-mate Robert Kubica. This year he’s at least been able to mix it with the Haas and Alfa Romeo teams – and the feasibility of an over-delivering presence in the Q2 part of the grid is much greater. That and getting his first points on the board have been realistic targets. He’d yet to achieve the latter as we headed into these last three races and that bugged him, for he is a super-competitive individual, very straightforward, very results-orientated. His spinning out behind the Imola safety car when on the verge of doing that was for him a devastating blow.

There had been a worrying bubble of speculation a few weeks earlier that Williams might be looking at taking Sergio Pérez
in Russell’s place as the Mexican shopped around for a drive. It was a tempting prospect for a Williams team which, even under its new ownership and with its debts cleared, doesn’t have money to spare. Pérez is a top driver and brings sponsorship as well. All Russell can supply is speed and ambition. But Williams itself ended the speculation, doubtless with an eye also to its engine supplier Mercedes. Russell is a junior Mercedes driver. His first proper run in a Mercedes came in 2018 before he’d made his F1 debut – at a general test at the Hungaroring. He went fastest, eclipsing Kimi Räikkönen’s Ferrari.

“Russell’s shoulders would hurt as he had to drive hunched”