George Russell looks to be a teammate and not a rival to Lewis Hamilton

  • New Mercedes driver admits Hamilton among his ‘superheroes’
  • F1 2022 season begins this weekend with Bahrain Grand Prix

George Russell has insisted that there is no rivalry with his teammate Lewis Hamilton, as he prepares for his first race as a full-time driver with his new team Mercedes.

The 24-year-old from King’s Lynn said he felt only excitement for the challenge ahead in working with Hamilton whom he looked up to as a “superhero” as a child, when he takes to the track for the Formula One season-opener in Bahrain this weekend.

Hamilton has multiple championships and is entering his 16th season in F1 and has been world champion seven times, while Russell is very much at the start of his career. He is highly rated and expected to present a genuine challenge to Hamilton but views their relationship as collaborative rather than combative.

“We are at different stages of our careers. Lewis has nothing to prove, he is statistically the greatest driver of all time, I think he wants me to succeed and he truly wants to help me,” he said. “It’s incredibly exciting that I find myself in a win-win scenario. You’re going up against the greatest of all time who has beaten everybody. I can only learn from him.”

With Mercedes on the back foot, their car suffering from the “porpoising” downforce problem on straights causing the car to bounce violently, Russell insisted the pair were committed to working together as they face strong opposition.

“There is really good respect between Lewis and I,” he said. “We both recognise we need to work together to push forward because our competition isn’t with each other, it is against Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren. If we start battling internally, trying to be secretive about set-ups, it’s not going to benefit anybody. We are all here to win, and beating your teammate is not the sole goal for any of us.”

Russell began karting when he was eight in 2006 and a year later Hamilton made his debut in F1. He has been part of the Mercedes junior driver programme since 2017 and toward the end of last season Mercedes signed him to a race seat to replace Valtteri Bottas, a move he admits his younger self would have found hard to believe.

“It is surreal in a way,” he said. “When you’re a kid you believe they are superheroes. It’s funny when I look at it now that I am lining up alongside Lewis.”

Russell impressed during his three seasons with Williams, repeatedly outperforming the car which was mired at the back of the grid. He was outstanding in wet conditions to take second on the grid at Spa last year and similarly in taking third in qualifying for last year’s Russian GP.

He also proved entirely confident in stepping up to the big stage when he stood in for Hamilton, who had contracted Covid, at the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020. Russell was second on the grid at the Bahrain International Circuit in his first drive for Mercedes and having taken the lead was entirely in command of the race and set for a win until a team pitstop error and then a puncture denied him the top spot. He will have no fears of opening his full-time drive with Mercedes at the circuit where he made such an impression two years ago.

Mercedes took a bitter blow to their morale when Lewis Hamilton was denied an eighth title in controversial circumstances at last year’s season finale, according to a pivotal member of the team.

Anthony Davidson, the former F1 driver who has been Mercedes’ simulator driver since 2012, witnessed the striking change in atmosphere after the Abu Dhabi result and the steely determination that followed from the team and Hamilton in preparation for this weekend’s Formula One season-opener in Bahrain.

Davidson describes a team rocked by Hamilton’s defeat, when the race director, Michael Masi, took decisions under the safety car that allowed Max Verstappen to overtake on the final lap to win the race and drivers’ championship. “I came back in for the first day [after Abu Dhabi] and the atmosphere, well, they were hurting badly, they were bruised. Suddenly the tone had changed,” Davidson said.


Giles Richards in Bahrain

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