George Russell proved in his first season with Mercedes that he’s the real deal and the test for the King’s Lynn racer now is whether he can maintain his upward trajectory.
Russell has been on the radar for some time as having the potential to be a future world champion and demonstrated that standing when finishing ahead of his more illustrious Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in 2022.
Joining a team led by a seven-time world champion would have given most drivers pause for thought, but Russell took it in his stride as he finished fourth in the drivers’ championship standings behind the wheel of the most disappointing Mercedes of the V6 hybrid era.
But squeezing the maximum out of his car is a trait we’ve seen from Russell throughout his career and is a testament to the dedication and focus he’s exhibited from a young age.
Russell’s motorsport career began at the age of seven when he took up karting and he quickly progressed through the ranks, eventually bringing him into contact with fellow future F1 drivers Charles Leclerc and Alex Albon.
Russell would graduate from karts in 2014, winning the Formula 4 championship in his first year with the Lanan Racing team. Immediate success on the single-seater scene became a theme of Russell’s fledgling career, winning the GP3 crown in his rookie season in 2017, and earning him a place in Mercedes’ young driver programme.
Russell would justify Mercedes’ decision to add him to their stable when edging out now-McLaren driver Lando Norris to win the GP2 title in his maiden year in the class.
With the GP2 title under his arm, Russell got his chance in F1, signing a multi-year deal to drive for Williams in 2019.
The Oxfordshire-based outfit were predominantly backmarkers and that didn’t change during Russell’s first year with the team as he finished pointless.
While Williams continued to lack the race pace to get anywhere near the top 10 in 2020, Russell showed there was some life in the car during a handful of qualifying sessions.
The Brit would regularly out-qualify his team-mate and get Williams through to Q2 with the pick of the performances that year seeing him qualify 11th on the grid at the Styrian Grand Prix.
Russell would earn the nickname ‘Mr Saturday’ for his qualifying drives, but he couldn’t convert those promising Saturdays into points and moved into joint-third for most races without a point (35). before his luck turned in Bahrain shortly after.
When Lewis Hamilton was unable to drive in the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, Mercedes turned to Russell to fill in for the world champion.
It was a big opportunity for Russell, but not an easy one to grasp with the car set up for Hamilton, meaning the taller Russell barely fitted behind the wheel of the Silver Arrow, while his feet were too big for the pedals.
That made his performance all the most extraordinary as took second in qualifying, 26 milliseconds behind polesitter Valtteri Bottas.
Russell would overtake fellow Mercedes driver Bottas early on in Bahrain and lead for much of the Grand Prix, only for a pit stop error and then a slow puncture to ruin his chances of a maiden race win as he came home ninth to end his points drought.
Having shown what he can do driving a competitive car, Russell went back to Williams in 2021 and continued to produce some eye-catching performances.
Being British, Russell is no stranger to the rain and he put his wet-weather skills to good use when amazingly qualifying in second for the Belgium Grand Prix.
With soaking conditions meaning the race was only run over three laps, Russell would hold on to second to take a maiden podium.
That was one of four races in which Russell scored points that year and shortly after Belgium, a switch to Mercedes for 2022 was confirmed.
Russell was expected to play the role of a very competent wingman to Hamilton’s bid for a record eighth title at Mercedes in his first season with the team, but that script was quickly ripped up.
When it became clear the Silver Arrows weren’t going to be in the title picture, the two Brits were allowed to race and engaged in a far more competitive battle than many expected.
Hamilton would just edge out Russell when it came to qualifying, while they were split 11-11 in their head-to-head race results.
However, it was Russell who finished ahead of Hamilton in the standings, thanks in part to securing the team's only win of the season in Brazil.
Russell’s excellent weekend in Sao Paolo, which saw him win the sprint race and then dominate the Grand Prix from start to finish, may have been a glimpse of things to come for the 25-year-old heading into the 2023 season.
Like all good drivers, Russell isn’t afraid to risk it all and that has got him into hot water at times, most recently when wiping out Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz at the United States Grand Prix.
But that aggressive streak is one all good F1 drivers carry. It’s Russell’s ability to adapt to any track or condition, coupled with his fine balance of being super competitive in both qualifying and race day, that makes him stand out from the crowd.
He’s been fully focused on becoming an F1 champion from a young age and, if Mercedes have developed a competitive car for 2023, he could go close to achieving that goal at 8/1.