Named Mercedes Formula 1 reserve driver for 2018, Russell remained with ART for that year’s graduation to F2. A late safety car denied victory in Baku’s Feature race but he charged through the field to win the following day’s Sprint. That was the first of seven victories as he beat Albon to another championship title.
Formula 1 with Williams
Russell used a PowerPoint presentation to help convince Williams of his credentials and he signed a two-year contract for the 2019 and 2020 F1 seasons. Unfortunately, the Williams FW42-Mercedes was late and proved to be the slowest car in the field when it was ready. That said, Russell out-qualified and normally out-raced team-mate Robert Kubica although 11th in Germany was as close as he came to scoring a championship point during his rookie season.
2020 continued in a similar vein for Russell, but his highlight came at the penultimate race of the season after Lewis Hamilton tested positive for Covid-19 in the build-up. Russell chosen by Mercedes for one race and he gave a brilliant account of himself throughout the weekend. Despite sitting in the car for the first time on Friday, Russell finished just 0.062sec off of Valtteri Bottas’ pole position time, but race day cemented his case for a call-up in the future. The Briton seized the lead of the race at the first corner and controlled proceedings from there until a mistake by Mercedes took him out of the lead. A tyre mix-up in a double-stack pit stop required a further stop to rectify the mistake and dropped Russell to fifth, behind Bottas. A spectacular move on the Finn and passes on Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon had him bearing down on leader Sergio Perez until a puncture with nine laps to go ended his victory hopes. He bounced back to finish ninth and earn his first F1 points, but his reputation had soared.
Russell stayed at Williams for the 2021 season but made it clear during the early phase of the season he intended to settle his future before the summer break. A crash with Valtteri Bottas at Imola fighting for position heightened tensions and speculation over the second Mercedes seat. Russell eventually admitted fault and apologised for his reaction to the incident having initially suggested Bottas had raced him differently due to the duo’s battle over the race seat for ’22.