2017 GP3 Series champion George Russell felt making his Formula 1 Free Practice debut at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace was a ‘huge step’ for his career as he completed twenty-nine laps for the Sahara Force India F1 Team on Friday.
Replacing regular race driver Sergio Perez in that first session in Brazil, the Mercedes-Benz protégé finished a respectable twelfth fastest, just under six-tenths of a second shy of Esteban Ocon, despite having to learn both the car and the circuit, with it being his first time at the Interlagos circuit.
Speaking after the session, Russell thank Force India for the opportunity to run in one of their VJM10’s during the session, which he will also do in the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the end of the month, adding that it was a surreal feeling to have finally drove a Formula 1 car during an actual race weekend.
“First and foremost I want to thank Force India because I really enjoyed today,” said Russell. “It’s something I have been working towards for a long time and even though it feels normal right now, it’s a surreal feeling to know I have been driving in a race weekend.
“It’s a huge step up for me, but I have been prepared as well as I could be: I have done days in the simulator with both Mercedes and Force India and I feel that, after my days at the test in Budapest, this was the next step.
“I didn’t know the car or the circuit and I wanted to learn as much as I could to review and take to Abu Dhabi, a track I know.”
Russell worked on finding a set-up that suited him during the early stages of the session before going for ultimate lap times, and as a result of running quick laps towards the end of the session whilst others were concentrating on long runs meant it was difficult to find the space on the circuit to attack.
“We did some aero running early in the session, then some proper runs to change the set-up to my liking,” said Russell. “All tyre compounds felt good and I got up to speed quickly.
“I was very happy with the car. The final half of the session was quite difficult: I was still doing fast laps while others were doing longer runs: it’s a short circuit and it’s difficult to find space.
“You end up compromising your warm-up procedures because you’re looking in the mirrors all the time, but it’s something from which I learnt a lot.”