Ex-F1 world champion explains why he’s not overly impressed with Russell

George Russell sits second in the Drivers' Championship after securing his first podium in Mercedes colours in Melbourne.

Double Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen has revealed that he has been impressed with George Russell’s consistency, but maintains that fortune has slightly skewed the perception of relative performance.

Russell has adapted well to life at Mercedes since joining from Williams over the winter, out-qualifying team-mate Sir Lewis Hamilton once and out-racing him twice.

He was a second adrift of the seven-time champion in Bahrain as he qualified ninth, and seven tenths behind predecessor and now Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas, before recovering to fourth in the race.

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The 24-year-old would then out-qualify Hamilton by eight tenths in a miserable weekend for the Stevenage-born racer in Jeddah, ending the race fifth and establishing himself as a very able driver for the Brackley side.

A podium in Australia was rather fortuitously earned through a Safety Car and a reliability failure for Max Verstappen, but the former Williams man has shown clear capabilities of competing at the pointy end of the order, colouring Hakkinen somewhat surprised.

“George drove a really strong race and that third place was very important,” he wrote in his Unibet column.

“It’s really surprising to see him second in the World Championship, but his consistency and the car’s reliability has been impressive – fourth in Bahrain, fifth in Saudi Arabia and now a podium in Australia.”

However, the Finn emphasised that the podium in Melbourne, given the fortunate timing of the Safety Car, was not necessarily entirely representative.

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“It’s also noticeable that he is ahead of Hamilton, although the Safety Car had a big influence in Melbourne so I don’t think that is any reflection of relative performance,” he added.

Hakkinen, who won his titles in 1998 and 1999 with McLaren, indicates that it will be a matter of time before the Silver Arrows manage to find their feet under the new technical regulations, which will be galvanising Red Bull to work even more strenuously to improve their reliability.

“Lewis and George are both doing a fantastic job for Mercedes while the team sorts out its performance problems, and that is another reason Red Bull need to fix their reliability issues,” he explained.

“This championship could easily develop into a three-way fight between these teams and Ferrari.”

The 53-year-old’s former McLaren team made significant improvements in Melbourne compared to the first two rounds of the year during which a P7 for Lando Norris was the best result they could muster.

But the Briton ended the race in Australia P5, ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who scored his first points of the season.

It was an important weekend symbolic of the team slowly managing to get to grips with the new ground effect aerodynamics among other confusing aspects, but Hakkinen is confident that they are not moving in the right direction.

“The men and women at McLaren have really started to unlock performance from the car and it’s clear to see a big step was made this weekend,” he affirmed.

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“With a major regulation change it takes time to understand how to get a car working, but McLaren is clearly on the right path.”

McLaren launched themselves up to fourth in the Constructors’ Championship after their impressive points haul in Melbourne, while Russell is 34 points behind Charles Leclerc in the Drivers’ Standings.