2018 FIA Formula 2 Champion George Russell believes that leading the series added more pressure onto Williams Martini Racing to sign him up to their team in 2019.
Russell clinched the F2 championship with a race to spare at Abu Dhabi, claiming pole position and the feature race win which helped win the title ahead of Alexander Albon.
The ART Grand Prix driver controlled the race on Saturday evening to join Charles Leclerc to have won the GP3 Series and F2 championship in their rookie year.
Russell spoke after the race in the champion’s press conference with FIA Formula 2, saying to win the series after ‘long and tough’ year was a sigh of relief for the British driver.
“It’s a huge sigh of relief to be honest!,” said Russell.
“It’s been a very long and tough year for myself and ART, and we’ve worked really hard and probably from Baku we’ve been one of the quickest on track every single time. We’ve had a number of issues that have been hugely frustrating, but others have as well and it’s been a little difficult to get this across the line.
“But that pole yesterday you saw the emotions there, and obviously we knew what we had to do today, to win it in style, and that’s what we did.”
After clinching the title in F2, Russell will now join Formula 1 with Williams next year. He’ll be one of three drivers on the F2 grid to make the step up to F1 next year, with Lando Norris and Albon joining him.
Norris was the first F2 driver to have been signed up into F1, agreeing to race at McLaren F1 Team next year. When asked whether he was frustrated that he was the first one to be signed up, Russell admitted that their signing of the Carlin Motorsport driver gave hope to Russell that Williams would sign him up.
“Not at all actually,” added Russell. “Lando’s announcement so early helped me to push Williams for my drive because if I was ahead of him in the championship and McLaren believed he was worthy of a Formula 1 seat it showed there was some great signs for myself, and it probably added more pressure for Williams to say we’ve got to go with George because he’s the guy who is winning F2.
The final round of the championship saw Russell fight with a driver he grew up racing with in Albon. The DAMS driver in his second year of the series was 37 points behind the championship leader heading into Abu Dhabi.
But after qualifying down the midfield and stalling in the Feature race, which sent him down the field and out of the points, Albon lost out on winning the series. After scoring one point in the final race of the year, Albon ended the year in third, with Norris surpassing him.
Russell added that it was great to battle with Albon and has huge respect for him.
“It was great. I have a huge amount of respect for Alex, we’re great friends, and on the track we’re rivals but we’ve always had great respect for each other in Formula Renault, Formula 3 or this year.
“Going into this he was always the dark horse. There was always a lot of focus on me and Lando for the championship, but Alex was always there and I kept reminding journalists about this.
“Even in Sochi we were doing a photoshoot with Lando and myself, and I said we need Alex here because he’s right there, and as it turned out it was Alex who was the only one who could fight me coming here!
“It was great, and I really hope he secures the drive that the media are speculating about for next year.”
Albon will join Russell and Norris on the F1 grid next year, having recently confirmed that he’ll race at Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda.