George Russell willing to take more risks to earn Formula One points

Russell Formula One
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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 “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.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.