Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff has recalled some endearing memories of George Russell’s first steps into his F1 operation after the Briton scored a maiden pole position and race victory with the outfit during the 2022 season.
Russell joined the German manufacturer’s rebooted junior programme as a teenager back in 2017, going on to win both the GP3 (now F3) and F2 titles as a rookie, before making his F1 debut with the Mercedes-powered Williams outfit in 2019.
Following three seasons of development, punctuated by an eye-catching stand-in performance for the unwell Lewis Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, Russell secured a full-time promotion to Mercedes in 2022 and impressed from the outset.
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After Mercedes worked through some early-season car issues, it was Russell who claimed the team’s only pole position (at the Hungarian GP) and win (at the Sao Paulo GP), marking the next step in a journey that all began with a plucky pitch to join the Mercedes stable.
“I thought about it at the end of the race [in Brazil] when he walked in [to our factory] as a 16-year-old, with his suit and his tie and his PowerPoint presentation,” remembered Wolff.
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“He is the first of our new junior programme that has won a race [with Mercedes]. Obviously, Lewis has been there forever and is the most successful of the ones that have graduated from the junior academy. But six years later he is a Grand Prix race winner – [and it’s] deserved.”
Wolff continued: “We have always set hard targets. You’ve got to win GP3, you’ve got to win F2, and he did that in his rookie seasons and then, I guess, at Williams, it was the best school he could have had.
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“[It was] maybe a year too long [before moving to Mercedes], but in any case, today the most relevant is that he is a Grand Prix winner, and a deserving Grand Prix winner.”
Russell ended his first season at Mercedes fourth in the drivers’ standings, 35 points clear of Hamilton, meaning he became only the third driver – after Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg – to out-score the seven-time champion as an F1 team mate.