George Russell says he’s banishing all thoughts about his 2022 Mercedes prospects as he heads into the new Formula 1 season, because he knows his situation can change quickly.
The Briton is an obvious candidate to move to Mercedes in 2022 following an impressive debut for the team as stand in for Lewis Hamilton at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix.
But despite what is up for grabs if he impresses for Williams this year, he says the rollercoaster that he experienced last season to get his first Mercedes chance shows why there is little reason to get too carried away with his prospects right now.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Autosport, Russell said that he was not thinking about any target he needed to reach in 2021 to please the Mercedes bosses.
“No, they’ve not said what I need to do,” Russell said. “At the moment I’m just respectful to everybody at Williams and I will just be giving my absolute all for that team, as they have done for me for the last two years.
“I don’t like to think about the future. This sport changes incredibly quickly, people’s perception of drivers – your reputation [can change fast]. And outside factors, as we’ve seen [can come into play].”
Russell says that his attitude about the future was rammed home to him last year when he landed the plum Mercedes drive in Bahrain and came close to winning having been leading before a pitstop blunder and late puncture relegated him to finish in ninth place.
He says even getting the chance of driving as a one-off for Mercedes had not been on his radar last year, because Williams’s previous management had always been so against it.
“Nobody could have predicted the events that happened,” he said.
“Telling me in the middle of the year that I’d have been leading the race, and that I should have won a race this year, and starting in the front row – because I didn’t even think it would be possible to be… I didn’t even think it was possible to get the chance for Mercedes, as a reserve driver.
“We’d spoken about this in the past and it was a ‘no go’. But fortunately, the new owners were very open, and they wanted to give me that opportunity. Potentially, to see how I would perform as well.
“So I didn’t even think that possibility [was realistic] even if Lewis or Valtteri [Bottas] were to miss a race. I didn’t think it would be possible anyway.”
Despite Russell’s disappointment at losing out on a shot of a maiden F1 win in the Sakhir race through no fault of his own, he is well aware of how positively his performance was perceived.
“It’s not eating me up inside, because I see the race almost was a victory in itself with how everything panned out,” he said when asked about how he had handled the events.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell myself anyway to get over the disappointment of losing it!
“I think the pitstop fiasco almost gave me that opportunity to go out there and show what I can do in a very difficult circumstance – when the pressure is high.
“We had the race well and truly under control, and then suddenly, I’m back in fifth and I’ve got my team-mate ahead of me in the same car as me, who I knew was going to be incredibly tricky to overtake.”