George Russell has a major season ahead in 2022, as he joins reigning Constructor’s Champions Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team in the midst of huge changes in a new era of Formula 1. In his first interview with the team, Russell touches on his experience joining Mercedes and teaming up with familiar faces from his junior career.
“It’s an incredibly special feeling to be an official Mercedes driver and a bit of a strange feeling at the same time, because I had spent so much time there when I was in Formula 3 and Formula 2 as a junior driver. In a way it feels like returning home to people who I’ve known for such a long time and getting up to speed with how the team operates again, which is something I’ve really enjoyed.”
The familiarity of the team has allowed Russell to get right to work when it comes to preparation and development for the upcoming season. 2021 saw a wavering of Mercedes’ hybrid-era dominance, as Lewis Hamilton lost out on an 8th Drivers’ title in a controversial end to a close battle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. As a result, Mercedes will be looking to reassert their position as a championship-winning team in 2022.
“Because I’ve spent so much time with the team prior to joining Williams in Formula 1 as a junior driver, I feel like I know everybody so well already, so we get straight to business on the important bits and bobs to understand the new car, to understand the challenges, and to try and prepare as best as possible for the season ahead. I think, following the conclusion of last year there’s so much motivation and fire within the whole factory to bounce back and that is incredible for me to see.”
At the factory, Russell has spent time working alongside the engineers and using the simulator to better understand how the car should progress– a particularly exciting effort considering the new regulations.
“So far it’s been a great winter. I spent nine days in Lanzarote for my training camp, which is something I’ve done on a yearly basis, which is a great way to start the season. I’ve spent plenty of days in the factory with the engineers going through a lot of presentations on what the car looks like but obviously, and most importantly, I’m on the simulator getting to grips with the new car, understanding the limitations and trying to direct the development and where we need to improve, and I think that’s been also a really exciting part for me with this new opportunity, with the new regulations, to try and get on top of that as fast as possible.”
Russell said that W13 is proving to be very different compared to cars of the last era, and the team is constantly learning how to extract the best out of it. His focus is to recognize the car’s limitations and create a basis upon which improvements can be made as the season progresses.
“First impressions of W13 have been interesting– it’s a very different car to the previous era, and the characteristics of how the downforce is produced is completely different, so we’re still learning as we’re going. There’s still a huge amount of improvements to be made to bring everything together to make it as nice as possible to drive, which I foresee a lot of people being in the same boat because we’re just learning so much day after day whether it’s in the wind tunnel or in the simulator and I think it’s going to be a year of development. I think everybody wants to go to the first race and have the fastest car possible but what’ll be more important is understanding what your limitations are and how you’re going to improve from those limitations to build yourself the best foundation possible.”
With new regulations and a new team, 2022 is a blank slate for Russell– something he sees as beneficial.
“I see moving teams during this regulation change as a positive in all honesty because you got a completely different car with a completely different philosophy to previously- different tyres, working with new engineers– and I think starting from a completely fresh sheet of paper is beneficial for all wearers, I think if I stayed with Williams for this season there’s always things in the back of your mind that you learnt on the previous era of cars that will always subconsciously carry through into the future whereas if you are truly starting from a fresh slate I think that can only be beneficial this year.”
Russell’s jump to Mercedes has been a much anticipated move by fans, as the British driver will drive for a top team for the first time in his F1 career. There is, however, much uncertainty to how the team will stack up after integrating the new regulations. Therefore, Russell is more focused on development than a target result.
“My hopes for 2022 is to really get the maximum from myself and the team around me. I think it’s going to be such an interesting year of development and I think that’s truly where the performance is going to be this year. In terms of the result, I truly don’t believe you can put a value or a target on that, because nobody knows where they’re going to be when they reach the first race. You have to have your micro targets– where am I going to improve on myself, where am I going to improve on the car– and if you do every single aspect correctly you give yourself the best chance of reaching the obvious goal.”