Driven by a lifelong ambition that had begun in a pedal car, George Russell finally delivered for the kid with the big dreams in taking his first Formula One win at the São Paulo Grand Prix. Indeed, were there any doubts of the pedigree of this young man he claimed victory by holding off no lesser driver than his Mercedes teammate and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, with some magnificent pedalling.
Russell was immaculate at Interlagos, the promise he has shown in his short career emphatically confirmed with a win that means so much to him and his Mercedes team. “This is just the beginning guys,” he said, a prediction with which it is hard to argue after an outstanding performance. Head in his hands and visibly overcome he admitted: “I am going to need some tissues”, as the emotion overtook him. It was an achievement recognised sportingly by Hamilton who was second in front of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. “Huge congratulations to George, he drove an amazing race and he deserved it,” he said.
Russell started from pole and was unmatched out front but he had benefitted from F1’s eternal antagonists, Max Verstappen and Hamilton, once more tangling with one another in his wake. The pair clashed early in the race, dropping them down the field with Verstappen penalised for having caused the incident.
It left Russell able to dictate in clean air and drive a series of inch-perfect laps to hold his lead untroubled until the final third, when he was truly made to work for it. With Hamilton having made his way back through the field the pair were one and two, closed up after a late safety car, and Mercedes made it clear they were free to race. The tension was palpable, the pressure immense and the smallest error would have cost Russell the win but he was unflappable. He had 12 laps to run, metronomic and quick; fastest lap followed fastest lap and even Hamilton could not challenge him.
With ice in his veins and the composure of a future champion Russell earned the victory in no uncertain terms, which doubtless will have made it all the more memorable after a long journey to make it to the top step. This, his 81st race in his fourth year in F1 having spent the previous three at Williams, was a huge result for the 24-year-old from King’s Lynn who had come to racing after following his brother to karting meetings and driving his pedal car round the paddock.
He grew up admiring Hamilton and in Brazil showed the skill, composure and precision execution the seven-time champion has exhibited so often in the past. The Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is convinced Russell is a future world champion in waiting and at Interlagos those credentials were on display. The win is all the more remarkable given it comes after a brutal season where the uncompetitive Mercedes has not only been off the pace but a handful to drive and hugely physically demanding owing to the bouncing and porpoising with which it suffered for the majority of the year.
To pull this out of the bag was very much against the odds, then, and a testament to Russell and his team sticking at trying to maximise what they could from the car on every occasion this year. They did so with all the skill they demonstrated when enjoying dominant periods, a testament to their operational precision, clearly not dulled by a difficult year.
It has been some time coming for Mercedes. This is their first win for 21 races, their longest stretch without a victory since the turbo-hybrid era began in 2014. Hamilton last won for the team at the Saudi Arabian GP in 2021 and they had wanted something positive, a trophy to take away from this season. In this penultimate race of the year, Russell delivered.
The result is huge in terms of morale as the team looks toward next season, with Red Bull having already secured the drivers’ and constructors’ double this year. It is a monkey off their back, then, but the moment belongs to Russell, an unforgettable achievement and surely only the first of many to come.
Charles Leclerc was fourth for Ferrari, Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon were in fifth and eighth for Alpine. Verstappen and Sergio Pérez were sixth and seventh for Red Bull, Valtteri Bottas ninth for Alfa Romeo and Lance Stroll tenth for Aston Martin.