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Fernando Alonso believes that George Russell’s performance with Williams and Mercedes proves that evaluating young drivers’ potential is “complicated”.
Russell was rarely competitive in a sub-par Williams car in 2020, at least in races. In fact, the team failed to earn a single championship point the entire season.
However, when he stepped in for Lewis Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix when the latter tested positive for the coronavirus, he jumped straight to the front of the grid and was immediately competitive.
Russell qualified P2, narrowly behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas. He then overtook Bottas off the start and was on course to record his first Grand Prix victory before Mercedes mistakenly put Bottas’ tyres on his car, meaning he had to pit for a second time in two laps.
Russell then suffered a late puncture and dropped to ninth position, but his performance did not go unnoticed, and, according to Alonso, it shows how much the car impacts evaluation.
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“The Russell case is striking in explaining this version of F1,” Alonso told RAI Sport.
“In five days, not a hundred, he went from last to first. All without a divine touch, without meditating in Tibet or sh*t. It was enough just to get into a Mercedes.
“Evaluating the drivers is complicated. Of course, if we think about who Hamilton or Bottas see more often in their rear-view mirrors, we find [Max] Verstappen.
“[Charles] Leclerc is an exceptional talent but to really gauge him it takes a few years.”
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On the importance of the car, Alonso also highlighted the technical advantage Hamilton has enjoyed throughout his dominant period.
“There is no domination if there is not a winning car,” added the Alpine driver. “When you conquer a series of titles it means you have a decisive technical superiority.
“It happened to Hamilton, it happened to Vettel that with Red Bull when he triumphed and then he could not win [the title] again. The same happened to me with Renault in 2005 and 2006.”
Of course, the car makes a massive difference, and the disparity between Russell’s finishes in the Williams and the Mercedes is telling.
However, for Russell, it was an incredible experience, as he explained to The Sportsman this week.
“It was incredible how it all came about so last minute,” he recalls of the experience. “It was confirmed on the Wednesday night and I was in the car on Friday. The weekend went as well as it could have done until it didn’t, let’s say.
“I went into it with the approach that it’s not going to break my career but could potentially make it and I think it was a massive stepping stone to, I hope, a long future in F1 to come.
“I was really grateful for the chance, obviously not in the circumstances I would have wished, but nevertheless with the short notice we had, it gave me a chance to show what I can do from the front.
Russell will return to Williams for the 2021 season, hoping to improve on his 2020 results. If he can, he will only further the belief that he is Mercedes’ future.
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