George Russell hopes his superb Mercedes debut drive at the Sakhir GP puts Toto Wolff in a “difficult position moving forward” as he aims a full-time race seat, while the world champions’ boss said “a new star is born” and the “sky is the limit” for the young British driver.
Russell’s first race for Mercedes, standing in for Lewis Hamilton, may have ended in heartache following a pit-stop blunder and a puncture – but he sent a powerful F1 message in Bahrain, dominating experienced team-mate Valtteri Bottas and twice getting himself into a race-winning position.
- George Russell after Mercedes heartbreak: I lost the race… twice
There is, however, every chance that Russell returns to his Williams car for this weekend’s season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, with Hamilton recovering from coronavirus, while the 22-year-old is also signed up to race for the Grove team – one of the sport’s current backrunners – next season.
But Russell, telling Sky Sports F1 about “crying it out, hugging it out” and the “wise words” he had from family and Wolff after an emotional evening, is proud he has at least showcased his ability to Mercedes.
“My mum couldn’t speak because I think she was probably in tears,” Russell said. “So she put my dad on the phone and he was just like, you’ve got so much to be proud of, that was yours today.
“Likewise from Toto, he said you drove like a champion.
“I think we all feel it, to be honest, it was almost a fairy tale. Hopefully it puts Toto in a difficult position now moving forward… so if I’ve managed to achieve that that’s a little victory in itself.”
Bottas, who finished a place ahead of Russell in eighth on Sunday but only because of his team-mate’s double misfortune, has a contract with Mercedes for 2021, while although Hamilton has yet to sign a new deal – it is expected that F1’s seven-time champion will sign on soon.
Wolff: A new star is born
Russell was leading the Sakhir GP until Mercedes’ pit-stop error set him back to fifth, before chasing down eventual race-winner Sergio Perez – only to suffer a slow puncture.
Wolff who apologised to Russell on team radio, revealed to Sky F1 what he spoke to the youngster about in the immediate aftermath.
“Of course it was very emotional because if you are in your first race in a Mercedes and you should have won it, you are driving a monumental race, there’s not a lot to say.”
But the Mercedes’ team principal insisted this was just the beginning of Russell’s journey.
“It’s not going to be his last attempt to win a race, it’s just the beginning of a fairy tale that didn’t work out today,” he stated. “I would say a new star is born.”
An impressed Wolff added: “I think Lewis is the absolute benchmark, that is what his record says. Nobody is anywhere near him, I believe.
“But today we have seen there is a new generation coming up that can be very strong. They are in their early 20s, so the sky is the limit.”
Hamilton, who Wolff said “wasn’t feeling great” last week, hopes to get back in his championship-winning car for the Abu Dhabi GP, needing a negative Covid-19 test to do so.
“We need to see how Lewis recovers, that’s the most important – that he’s well,” Wolff added. “He said it’s a bit better today, he’s made a big step and if the test is negative then it’s his car and his race.
“But if the test is positive, then George is in the car.”
Praise for Russell from around F1
Firstly the shoutouts. Congrats to @SChecoPerez on his first win. Crazy considering first lap incident so congrats Checo! First podium for @OconEsteban congrats to him and the team @RenaultF1Team. @GeorgeRussell63… Ahh. I feel ya son. Rough. Great showing though 👏🏼
Proud of you, George. You may have been in a different car tonight, but the whole team was cheering you on as if it was any other Sunday.
Keep that head held up high.
Keep your head hi @GeorgeRussell63, you drove like a champion and you showed that you belonged in that seat. Congrats Sergio @SChecoPerez your first #F1 Win #SakhirGP
Sky F1’s Jenson Button: “As much as I’m happy for Checo, I’m gutted for George Russell. But in reality the result today doesn’t really matter. Today George put himself on the radar of every team up and down the pit lane and fans worldwide. Bright future me thinks!”
Sky F1’s Martin Brundle: “I think it’s an absolute given [he drives for Mercedes eventually]. The way he handled the start, the restart, the pace, the tyres, the overtakes when it mattered, it was a world-class performance, for which he’s not going to get rewarded… for now.”
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