George Russell reveals private Toto Wolff chat as he discusses challenging Lewis Hamilton

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George Russell has opened up about the moment team principal Toto Wolff handed him his dream drive alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, replacing Valtteri Bottas in the team for 2021. Russell has been excelling this year in a somewhat uncompetitive Williams car, scoring his first points for the team in Hungary and pulling off a stunning one-lap display at the rain-hit Belgian Grand Prix to qualify on the front row, just a week after receiving the call from Wolff.

Russia was also a memorable time for the 23-year-old after he qualified third in Sochi.

With Mercedes seemingly in a tough predicament between stability in Bottas or raw and fresh new talent in Russell, it took until the weekend before Spa for Wolff to make the call to the Briton, which coincided with Formula One’s summer break while the Brit was on holiday in Mykonos with his partner.

“I was never under the impression that I wouldn’t have the opportunity,” said Russell, speaking to the PA news agency.

“Toto said to me, ‘When have I ever let you down? Ever since you joined Mercedes [as an academy driver in 2017] you have always performed and I have never let you down. Focus on performing and leave the rest to me.’

“I was aware I was having a good season and he called me the weekend before Spa. I was relaxed, I was on holiday and I felt like I had done enough up until that point to justify getting the job.

“I didn’t need to go out there and stand it on his doorstep and ask if it was going to happen.

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“In fact, my parents were hassling me more than I was hassling anyone else. But I told them to trust me, I believe it will happen, so don’t worry. I always knew this was the plan.

“I have such high expectations upon myself and this is another step in the journey. There are only 20 seats in Formula One and it is very easy to go from zero to hero and the opposite.

“I didn’t sit down and suddenly think to myself, ‘That’s it, I am going to be world champion next year’, because I don’t want to get carried away.

“I want to be a world champion, that is absolutely clear, but I am going out there to work on the process of achieving that and not waking up every morning and just thinking it will happen.

“I know if I eat the best food, sleep the best way, put the work in in the simulator, work at the gym, work with my engineers, don’t do anything silly, and prepare the best as I can, then that will give me the best possible shot of what I want to achieve.”

Russell now faces one of the toughest tasks of his career, sitting in the opposite garage to Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time world champion who is currently fighting Max Verstappen for an eighth.

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As a pillar of the sport, Hamilton has dominated the championship since the start of the turbo-hybrid season in 2014.

The pressure that could be placed on Russell’s shoulders when he joins up with Hamilton at Mercedes has not been lost on the Brit.

But Russell insists he is relaxed about the prospect and admits he could learn a lot from working closely with Hamilton.

“The biggest challenge next year will be going directly up against the greatest driver of all time,” Russell added.

“But I am in such an amazing position because I can learn from Lewis and test myself against the best. Who wouldn’t want to be in that position?

“To be honest, it almost takes the pressure off. He is a proven great, but I believe in myself, I have high expectations and I have an amazing opportunity to show the world what I can do.

“And that is why I am so relaxed because I am going to a place where I couldn’t have wished for a better environment ahead of my fourth year in Formula One.”

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