Does George Russell make too many mistakes?


George Russell's event-filled Canadian GP brought up questions about his ability to pounce on a race-winning opportunity. But should he continue to make mistakes, will it cost him more than just F1 grand prix victories?

George Russell 2024 Mercedes

Could more mistakes cost Russell more than a race victory?

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The 2024 Canadian Grand Prix is a race George Russell arguably should have won. For perhaps the first time since the Sao Paulo GP in 2022, the driver from Kings Lynn had the track position, the car and the pace to claim the top step on the podium — certifying both Mercedes‘ long-awaited return to the battle at the front and his position as its leader.

Starting from pole, he led the first 20 tours around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and possessed a comfortable advantage over the trailing Red Bull of Max Verstappen and the McLaren of Lando Norris. But on lap 21, it all began to fall apart as Russell was demoted from first to third in the space of a few hundred metres: passed first by Norris on circuit’s longest straight, then by Verstappen after he misjudged the final chicane.

Some intermittent rain and a drying track soon gave Russell another go at the lead, but two laps after passing Norris for second on lap 49 he ran wide at Turn 8 — allowing the McLaren driver back through and forfeiting the opportunity to chase down Verstappen in an ailing Red Bull.

It was at this point that Sky F1’s veteran commentator David Croft asked the question which has not only crossed the minds of fans and F1 analysts, but surely also the senior figures at Mercedes: “Does George Russell just make too many mistakes at times when opportunity comes his way?”

George Russell Max Verstappen

Russell misses out on victory in Canada due to an unforced error…again

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Russell is far from the only driver of similar calibre and age to make the odd mistake. Lando Norris, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen have all made critical errors in the past which have not only cost them race wins but also kicked them out of world title contention. However, unlike those three Russell’s errors haven’t yet been cancelled out by a series of spectacular performances – not helped by two-and-a-half seasons behind the wheel of a mediocre Mercedes. With Lewis Hamilton’s departure booked at the end of the year, it has called Russell’s ability to lead an F1 team into question.


Russell’s missed chances

2024 Australian Grand Prix

Six races before his event-filled visit to Montreal in 2024, Russell crashed on the last lap of the Australian GP, while in pursuit of Fernando Alonso‘s Aston Martin in sixth place. Although the Spaniard was later accused and penalised heavily for braking early at Turn 6 — which forced the Mercedes driver to career off into the gravel before flipping back onto the track — other drivers including Lando Norris, Oscar Piastri, Lance Stroll, Sergio Perez, Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas agreed that Russell “should have seen it coming” and had been caught in dirty air.

2023 Singapore Grand Prix

It wasn’t the first time that Russell was left ruing a final-lap crash. At the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix, he tapped his right-rear tyre on a piece of armco and sent his Mercedes nose-first into the barrier at Turn 10 in the heat of a battle for the podium places. The crash not only forfeited a third place ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton but also cost the team critical points in its close fight with Ferrari for second in the constructors’ standings.

George Russell Singapore Crash

Russell’s crash in Singapore was costly to a team chasing a second-best title

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Other 2023 errors

The 2023 season in general was one riddled with errors for Russell. In Las Vegas he turned in on Verstappen at Turn 12 and received a five-second time penalty, which later demoted him from fourth to eighth. In Canada he hit the wall on the exit of Turn 9, causing terminal damage which would later force his formerly third-placed Mercedes out of the running entirely.

He also clashed with his team-mate on multiple occasions: first crashing into Hamilton during qualifying in Spain; he then compromised his final SQ3 lap in Belgium via an ill-timed lockup. He wasn’t the only Mercedes driver to make mistakes though. Hamilton took full responsibility for the race-ending contact between himself and Russell at Turn 1 in Qatar.

“It’s been probably one of the worst seasons of my career in terms of results,” said Russell, ahead of the 2023 season finale in Abu Dhabi. “It’s just been just a really scrappy, messy season.”

Mercedes George Russell 2023 Canadian Grand Prix

Russell’s Mercedes hobbles back to the pit-lane after clash with the wall at 2023 Canadian GP

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But despite his flaws, Russell’s performances prior to last season are perhaps the greatest reminder that underneath the growing pile of common and critical mistakes, there still lies the talent of a potential world champion.


Russell’s great side

In his time at Williams from 2018-2021, the Briton outperformed his inadequate machinery on multiple occassions. A series of Q2 appearances in 2020 and a impressive stand-in drive for Hamilton at the Sakhir GP set the tone for what was to come, as in 2021 Russell not only scored his first points in Hungary with a brilliant drive to ninth, but he also scored a second-place start at Spa and claimed a subsequent podium after the race was cancelled. He then completed another stunning qualifying lap at a rain-soaked Sochi Autodrom to qualify third and solidified a move to Mercedes, where in first first season he outscored Hamilton in the drivers’ standings, secured eight podiums finishes and won his first grand prix.

There were still some errors. At the 2021 Emilia Romagna GP, he put his promotion to the Brackley outfit at risk by colliding heavily with the Mercedes of Bottas in a bid for ninth place. On a quickly drying circuit, Russell had attempted to fly around the outside of the Finn at Turn 1 but instead strayed wide and slid onto the grass before then crashing both cars out of the race. Russell’s conduct during and after the crash was heavily criticised by Toto Wolff.

“Valtteri had a bad first 30 laps, and shouldn’t have been there,” he told media at the time. “But George should have never launched into this manoeuvre, considering that the track was drying up. It meant taking risks, and the other car is a Mercedes in front of him. In any driver’s development, for a young driver, you must never lose this global perspective. So yeah, lots to learn for him I guess.”

George Russell, 2021 Emilia Romagna GP

Russell and Bottas had a major collision at Imola, and Russell initially blamed the Mercedes driver


Fast-forward to 2024 and Russell is seemingly still trying to grasp onto the “global perspective” that his team boss spoke of. His numerous run-ins with his Mercedes team-mate as well as the multitude of unforced errors he’s made of late is perhaps due to the raised expectations that come with driving for a top team alongside a certified champion, as opposed to battling at the back against the likes of Nicholas Latifi.

“We’re pushing ourselves above and beyond every single lap,” Russell told Sky Sports F1 following his last-lap crash at the Singapore GP in 2023. “We’re going against the best drivers in the world and on a circuit like that, you’ve only got to make a mistake by a couple of centimetres and you’re off. I clearly got distracted or a loss of concentration when that happened.

“But I can tell you, it won’t happen when we’re fighting for a championship.”

Wolff added at the time: “George is an out-and-out racer and is devastated. It’s his second year in Mercedes and it’s not going to happen again when there’s another victory or championship [on the line].”

Both men were wrong. It did happen again.

Mercedes George Russell

Is Russell’s stint as Mercedes leader already coming to an end?

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Although Mercedes is still far from fighting at the front on a regular basis — let alone competing for championships — mistakes continue to creep into Russell’s performances when the pressure peaks. It’s noticeable how Wolff has been so public in support of Kimi Antonelli — the Mercedes junior who has been tipped as the team’s future star (as Russell once was) — and in his pursuit of Verstappen, who has been identified as an ideal replacement for a Ferrari-bound Hamilton in 2025.

While the driving force behind the Dutchman’s success since 2022 has arguably been the dominance of the car underneath him, it’s also hard to ignore the lack of mistakes he’s made. The 2024 Canadian Grand Prix is just the latest in a long list of examples, in which while the field behind him has squabbled and slid all over the racing surface in a bid to reach the chequered flag first, Verstappen has remained calm and consistent and eventually won with ease. Similarities could be seen in Hamilton during his years spent dominating at the front of the field, as even in the trickiest of conditions, the Briton rarely put a wheel out of place.

It’s a key reason why Verstappen and Hamilton have been the only two to win a drivers’ world championship since 2017. And it’s a level of consistency that will be demanded of Russell in the future in a Mercedes that can fight for victory.