Ahead of his move to Mercedes in 2022, George Russell is learning to take more risks to put himself in competitive positions in Formula One.
Trailing Aston Martin by 39 points and leading Alfa Romeo by 16 with five rounds remaining on the 2021 schedule, the Williams team is on their own island, and that is what Russell credits his new-found attitude.
“I think the pressure’s been lifted off my shoulders for a while now, and [I’m] more confident to really attack and go for it,” Russell said on Formula1.com. “P20 to P14 (at Austin) was a strong start for me, and I think in this position where we are now in the championship, we’ve got this small buffer, and it’s allowing me to go out there and really push the limits.
“I’m quite enjoying it to be honest. I’m not a driver who usually makes a huge amount of mistakes, but I wanted to push myself. I think it’s why we saw an off in FP3, a little off in qualifying at Zandvoort, and just really trying to push the limit to see if there’s more in there in these last few races.”
Russell got his first taste of scoring points last fall, when he was pressed into service as Lewis Hamilton’s replacement after that driver tested positive for COVID-19 before the Sakhir GP. Starting second in the more powerful Mercedes car normally run by the 2020 F1 champion, Russell fell to ninth and earned three points.
Russell would have to wait 12 races before he finished in the points again, but when he did so, it was with another career-best of eighth at Hungaroring this August. The next week, another second-place qualification effort at Spa Francorchamps allowed his team to secure half-points when rain canceled that race after two slow circuits behind the pace car. Teammate Nicholas Latifi also scored points in both events.
After those runs, Russell was announced as the driver who will replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes and team with Hamilton in 2022. Since then, he earned points in Italy and Russia, giving him four such outings in the last seven weeks.
Knowing that Mercedes has confidence in his ability is also part of Russell’s enhanced confidence.
“It’s just less pressure,” Russell said. “I think the fact we are in a position of relative comfort in the constructors’ championship and also on a personal level, [having] everything confirmed for next year, I’m in a very stable position personally and just able to go out there and try new things and don’t be afraid to make some mistakes.
“Just this weekend (At COTA) we struggled for pace. It’s a very strange circuit I felt, there wasn’t much adhesive grip from the tarmac and I think all the drivers were sliding around a lot and we just didn’t optimize it, make the most of it. [I] started last, made a good start up to 14th, and just stayed there. Nothing gained nothing lost; [at least] our rivals in Alfa (Romeo) didn’t score points.”