As well as listening to George Russell’s interview in audio, here is a transcript of his interview as he talks about his junior career and winning 2017 GP3 title.
- Who or what was your inspiration to become a racing driver?
Russell: My inspiration to become a racing driver was probably my brother. He’s 10 years older than me and was go karting from the age of 11-21 so I was always growing on the circuit.
All I know really is motor racing so from a young kid, that was all that I ever wanted to be.
- 2014 saw you compete in two Formula Renault racing categories; 2.0 Alps and 2.0 Eurocup alongside claiming the BRDC F4 2014 season title. How challenging did you find racing across those three series during your first year of single seater racing and getting that first title under your belt?
Russell: Racing in two series in 2014 was a great experience. Obviously, Formula Four was my main priority and we used the races in Formula Renault to gain track experience on European circuits.
As I moved up the ranks, I would be racing on these circuits and that was the time to use it as a learning experience really.
I didn’t find it that tough driving across two cars because they were very similar cars in terms of speed and I got quite a lot of experience in both of them,
It was quite easy to adapt between the two.
- 2015-16 saw you step up to F3 with strong results throughout. What was the toughest thing about racing in that series, given that several drivers are currently competing in this year’s GP3 and has racing those drivers before helped you this year?
Russell: The toughest thing about Formula Three was probably the huge amount of extra downforce that I had compared to Formula Four.
I feel like in my first season of F3, my results weren’t quite as good as I had probably hoped for them to be.
I think that was because I didn’t really understand how to use the downforce then. I probably wouldn’t of driven the car correctly as it was a very tough car to be honest and I think I personally went in the wrong direction.
Only towards the end of that season and 2016, I kind of understood it much better and knew results and my personal performance improved a lot.
What helped me a lot in F3 and into GP3 was the track time because in F3, its well known that they have a lot of races (three per weekend, two qualifying sessions, two free practice sessions and on top of that, plenty of testing).
Jumping from F3 to GP3 with limited track time in the latter really helped me to get on it straight away and have that extra experience under my belt.
- Your ART teammates were your main title rivals so how easy was it maintaining a strong team relationship whilst pushing each other for the title, especially against fellow compatriot, Jack Aitken?
Russell: Maintaining a strong relationship with ART teammates this season was probably much better than we expected really.
Although we were all fighting close together and quite often we were 1-2-3-4 on circuit or 1-2-3, we never really had too many moments throughout the year where there would be any reason for the team relationship to be poor or any conflicts within the team so really all season, we have had a very good relationship and we all worked very well from the four of us.
I think that is the main reason as to why we have had the success that we have had this year.
Obviously, it is very easy to look at ART and say that they have got the best car and whoever goes in is going to win or be in the top four. The main reason that we are so competitive is because we all work so well together to push the team forward and in right direction to give us the car to be extremely competitive.
- After plenty of thrilling overtakes with the two on Aitken in Jerez and the Monza lap 16 thriller being notable highlights en route to the GP3 title, which overtake did you enjoy producing from a driver in cockpit perspective this season?
Russell: Monza was absolutely fantastic to be fair I think. If that was Formula One, that image of the three ART cars three abreast down the main straight would be an iconic image for years and years to come.
So from that side of things, I absolutely loved that race. Those two laps were absolutely incredible, hard and fair racing between all three of us.
My favourite overtake would probably have to be the Jerez race two overtake on Aitken, mainly because of what it represented. I had a mistake off the line so I knew I had to do that to clinch the title.
I knew that I would only have one opportunity in the whole race so to know that I had one opportunity and took it. It was a great, clean and fair overtake and won us the title.
That was probably the most brilliant overtake of the season!!
- You have followed in fellow Mercedes young driver – Esteban Ocon’s footsteps by winning the GP3 title in your rookie season. How much inspiration does that give you for the future because he is now at Force India and producing excellent performances?
Russell: It gives me a lot of inspiration, mostly seeing what Esteban has done and he is on a similar path that I am currently on now.
I don’t see any reason why I can’t end up in a similar position to where he is now.
Mercedes have a lot of faith in their young drivers and put them in the right position at the right time and give us great opportunities.
They gave me the opportunity this season in GP3 and I had one clear target. That was to win the championship and now we have completed that target as Esteban did and I hopefully now see a future in F1 in the coming years.
- What are your plans for next season given that Pascal Wehrlein and Ocon reached F1 without racing in F2 (formerly known as GP2 when they raced in lower categories).
Russell: Obviously, its all about timing with Formula One. There is only 20 seats on the grid and not very often are there drivers not occupying seats in a very competitive field.
I believe that if this is 2018 currently then I am looking for a seat in 2019 right now, I would be pushing quite hard to be on the grid but for next season, all of the drivers are pretty much signed up and have one more year on their contracts.
2019 is going to be my clear focus on goal in which to reach F1 with next year most likely to be racing in Formula Two.
Right now, we don’t know which team. There are a few options out there but Formula Two is most likely where I am going to end up next season.
- As test driver for Mercedes, how beneficial have you found being around the team, both at races and back at Brackley?
Russell: I have found it very beneficial to be honest being part of Mercedes.
It serves me when I go to the races and involved in the team briefings and debriefs after the sessions.
At races listening to Lewis and Valtteri talking, the amount of detail that they go into are very interesting for me and just the level it takes to be in Formula One.
Basically, that is preparing me for the future more so than helping me currently and also if I ever need any advice on whatever it is, there is a whole load of people here who I can go to and ask their opinion on that I can get a lot of help from.
— George Russell (@GeorgeRussell63) 21 October 2017
To have that at my disposal whenever I want is great and also being a big part of the simulator development.
The simulator development is extremely realistic so its almost every time that I go on the sim, its pretty as much though I’m doing more and more laps around a surface circuit, getting more experience of that track and just steering behind the wheel of a racing car really.
From that aspect, its hugely beneficial.
- Finally, what are your ambitions for the future given that you and Charles Leclerc are probably going to lead F1’s next generation in the coming years?
Russell: My ambition is to become Formula One World Champion and it seems a lot more easier and simpler as a young kid in karting than it is.
You don’t realise how tough it is when you start reaching that level but I believe that motorsport is all about stepping up. You can’t look too far ahead of yourself and take everything on a race by race step really.
At the moment, my focus this year was like I said to win the GP3 title. Now that is completed, the next step is most likely to be racing in Formula Two and taking it race by race, trying to perform as best as I possibly can in each and every one of the races.
The target is to win the championship and then come the end of the year, when I know how I performed in F2 and where I ended up in the championship then I can start thinking about the future.
As we have seen in this sport, you can never look too far ahead.
Things can change all of the time, like we saw with Rosberg retiring at end of last season. I think that was extremely unexpected for everybody and there’s no reason why something like that could happen again.
That might be my chance to step in a race seat.
But like I said, anything can happen so got to be as best prepared as possible and ready for when that opportunity comes and just take every event and every year, year by year really.