George Russell enters high-profile role at Mercedes, ‘inspired’ by Lewis Hamilton

George Russell Mercedes Bahrain

Eight years after emailing Toto Wolff as an audacious teen keen to showcase his driving talent, George Russell has a chance to show the head of the Mercedes F1 team exactly what he can do on the track.

His opportunity comes next Sunday when the Formula One season begins in Bahrain. Coincidentally, that is where Russell drove brilliantly as a one-off replacement for Lewis Hamilton in late 2020.

They are now teammates after Russell, 24, replaced Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes, and it’s his turn to learn from a multiple world champion.

“That’s incredibly inspiring and motivating for me to try and reach the heights that Lewis has achieved,” Russell said.

Bottas never won the world title and only rarely pushed Hamilton. Russell might do better, but circumstances could play a part.

For while Mercedes say their drivers are free to compete against each other, it seems logical that Russell’s task also will be helping Hamilton to wrestle back the title he narrowly lost to Max Verstappen on the last lap of 2021.

“Lewis is a fighter and his absolute priority is to be the best version of himself when he hits the track in Bahrain,” Russell said. “He knows what it takes.”

Although Hamilton missed out on a record eighth title, which would have moved him ahead of Michael Schumacher, he has long been an inspiration to Russell for his endless work ethic.

“It always amazes me how someone so talented and successful as Lewis continues to strive for more,” Russell said. “I think we can really work well together to push the team forward.”

Presumably not against each other, like when Hamilton and former teammate Nico Rosberg fell out so badly in 2015 and ’16 – the last year Hamilton was beaten to the title until Verstappen ended his run last season.

Hamilton and Russell might have more work than envisaged, given how preseason testing went this week. Red Bull and Ferrari appeared quicker, and Mercedes struggled with “porpoising,” a new F1 term describing how cars bounce around on the track.

Mercedes have won eight constructors’ titles in a row, so it seems absurd to consider them panicking.

But there is genuine concern.

“We do seem a step behind our rivals and we do have a lot of work to do,” Russell said. “Red Bull are looking incredibly strong, Ferrari looking really solid.”

That’s precisely the kind of honesty Hamilton appreciates in Russell.

“He seems very genuine, and he’s just focused on being the best team player he can,” Hamilton said. “It’s been seamless, and we’re communicating a lot.”

Mercedes is a different world for Russell compared with his previous team, the modest Williams. But the meticulous-minded Englishman is in sponge-mode and absorbing all he can.

“They’re absolutely on top of every single detail,” he said. “It’s so impressive, from the simplest of things to the most technical. I really do feel like I’m at home.”

Russell joined the Mercedes junior program in 2017 before starting out in F1 with Williams, which uses Mercedes engines, in 2019.

He produced some impressive performances in a much slower car, particularly at the Belgian Grand Prix last year when he qualified second with outstanding driving in the wet.

Russell’s talent is no secret.

When Hamilton was ruled out of the Sakhir Grand Prix late in 2020, after contracting the coronavirus, it was Wolff contacting Russell this time.

“I got a phone call from Toto at 2 a.m.,” Russell said. “I was in the bathroom, which was slightly awkward.”

Russell stunned many observers with the level of his driving. He outshone the vastly more experienced Bottas, set the fastest lap and likely would have won if not for a badly timed pit stop that was entirely the team’s fault.

That driving was even more exceptional because, not only had he never raced in Hamilton’s car, he also has bigger feet and to fit in the car he had to go down a size and squeeze into size 10 racing boots.

Over two seasons in 2019 and ’20, Russell beat his teammates in every qualifying.

It seems impossible he’ll blank Hamilton, the F1 record-holder with 103 pole positions.

But Hamilton rates Russell as “incredibly talented” and sees in him a similar drive to succeed.

“You see that picture of him when he was a kid, when I was at McLaren,” Hamilton said. “Of course, he’s had an amazing run getting into Formula One. I have no doubt he’s going to be a strong competitor.”

Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The red flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500