Russell careful not to get hopes up after joining Mercedes junior programme


12 George Russell (GBR, HitechGP, Dallara F312 - Mercedes-Benz), FIA Formula 3 European Championship, round 2, race 1, Hungaroring (HUN), 22. - 24. April 2016. Credit: European Formula 3 Championship

Having just been signed up to the Mercedes junior driver programme, new recruit George Russell is conscious of not getting his hopes up too much on the testing front.

The only other two young drivers signed onto Mercedes books at the moment are Pascal Wehrlein, now driving for the Sauber F1 Team, and Esteban Ocon, who has a seat with the Sahara Force India F1 Team in 2017.

That would mean the Brit is the only real available member of the programme to take part in young driver and in-season testing sessions, but Russell, who will compete in the GP3 Series with ART Grand Prix alongside his new role, does not want to tempt fate, as he explained to motorsport.com recently.

“I’m the only driver on the scheme who isn’t in F1, but anything could happen, I’m just focused on the job at hand.

“I’m in the frame, but it doesn’t mean I’ve made it. I still have to do the job.”

“Bahrain clashes with a GP3 test, so the second test is far more likely. I’m preparing myself physically to be ready if I get chosen to go in the car, but it’s not high on my agenda.

“My full focus is on GP3 and going out to win the championship.” 

Russell has competed in European Formula 3 for the past two seasons, where he improved to take third overall last year with two wins and eight podiums to his name, having finished sixth in 2015. He also won the BRDC Formula 4 Championship in 2014.

The Brit will step up to GP3 in 2017 and is fully aware that his performance this year, driving for a top team, could make or break his chances of driving in F1 in the future.

“I think Mercedes are the best as far as looking after their young drivers who perform. You’ve only got to look at Esteban [Ocon] and Pascal [Wehrlein], who have been given amazing opportunities.

“Nevertheless, they have had to perform. Esteban won GP3, Pascal won DTM, they did the job and they got the opportunity.

“It all depends on my year this year, really. If I do a good job, I know Mercedes will take care of me. Obviously F1 is the target, but the short-term target is winning the championship in GP3.

“Esteban almost went straight to F1, [Valtteri] Bottas and [Daniil] Kvyat were the same. There’s no reason why I couldn’t jump straight from GP3 to F1.

“It’s massively about timing – you need to perform at the right time, when there is a seat available.”

As much as he would love to get a ride out in a F1 car during in-season testing or free practice, Russell has his mind solely focused on winning the GP3 championship in 2017 and that will take precedence for the Brit next year. After that however…who knows!