While Stoffel Vandoorne is Mercedes official reserve driver, it was to Russell that Toto Wolff turned on learning that Hamilton would miss this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix after testing positive for COVID.
“I got a phone call from Toto at 2am on Tuesday morning,” Russell told reporters in Bahrain, “I was in the bathroom, which was slightly awkward.
“I answered the phone, and he said ‘George are you in the bathroom?’, I said, ‘Sorry, I am in the bathroom’. He said ‘unfortunately Lewis has caught COVID, he’s doing well, he’s healthy and he feels fine which is most important, but we want you to drive’.
“So I was like, ‘right, OK’, then it was a bit of a sleepless night. We made it happen throughout the following day.
“I counted yesterday that I had 64 phone calls on Tuesday pinging between so many different people,” he admitted, “I’m so glad we got there in the end.”
Looking ahead to the weekend, he said: “From my side, there’s no pressure, I’m being thrown in at the last opportunity, I haven’t driven their sim in two years.
“My seat is three years old,” he continued, “I’ve got so much information to learn and going up against Valtteri isn’t going to be easy, so I’m in a good position, not putting any additional pressure on myself.
“I am going to go out there and enjoy it and there’s been no targets, no expectations expected from me by Toto or by Mercedes because you can’t judge somebody off the back of one race.
“This weekend is all going to be about learning,” he admitted, “especially Friday. Focus towards qualifying and into the race on Sunday.
“If I get the opportunity again in Abu Dhabi, who knows, that will be easier for me,” he added, amidst speculation that the strict protocols in place in Abu Dhabi could mean Hamilton needing to remain in isolation.