FIA Formula 2 championship leader George Russell has revealed he rejected a chance to drive for Racing Point Force India F1 Team in Free Practice 1 of the Italian Grand Prix.
The twenty-year old British driver has tested with Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport and Force India this season and was due to run some Free Practice 1 sessions during the year.
Russell, currently racing in F2 with ART Grand Prix, is locked in a championship duel with soon to be McLaren F1 Team driver Lando Norris, arriving at Monza with just five points separating the two.
He revealed to Autosport.com that he turned down the chance to run in FP1 in Italy to focus on his F2 title aspirations. He was able to resume his championship lead by winning the sprint race, extending his lead to Norris by 22 points with two rounds remaining.
“I was meant to be driving in FP1 for Racing Point Force India,” said Russell.
“In this tense title battle at the moment, we preferred to put more focus on F2 really.
“We did FP1 with Force India in Abu Dhabi last year and still put it on pole afterwards, I don’t think it would have affected me too much.
“You can get so caught up in the F1 dream that you forget what your priorities are. Formula 2 is my priority. I don’t know if we’ll do another FP1 later in the season or not, but nevertheless I think Mercedes have my best interests at heart.
“I have full confidence they are doing everything in their means to secure my future in F1.”
Russell will not have F2 commitments at the remaining rounds of the F1 calendar, except for Russia and the final round in Abu Dhabi.
He did not say whether another chance to run in FP1 but Mercedes boss Toto Wolff says that the call was from him and it was sensible not to distract him from his chances of grabbing the F2 title.
“That was his call actually,” commented Wolff. “He thought doing FP1 once in an F1 car was quite a distraction.
“I think it is a sensible call not to be too distracted from the limelight of F1 and would rather concentrate on the current job and this is F2.”
Russell is pursuing a drive in F1 next year, with odds aiming for a Williams Martini Racing seat next year. But recent moves in the driver market has left fellow Mercedes junior driver Esteban Ocon without a seat for 2019 and Williams could be last chance of a drive.
Force India, Ocon’s current team, will most likely bring in Lance Stroll in as his father brought the team with an consortium of buyers. Sergio Pérez is expected to sign a new contract with the team to stay.
Whilst Williams maybe a last chance for Ocon and Russell looking to make the jump to F1, the seat could be taken away from both drivers as increasing speculations could see fellow F2 driver Artem Markelov join the team to lead an all Russian line up with Sergey Sirotkin.