George Russell has testified that his Mercedes team-mate Sir Lewis Hamilton has been nothing but supportive since the 24-year-old’s arrival at Mercedes, and said he will work as hard as possible to avoid becoming a number two driver.
Russell replaced Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes after the Finn helped the Silver Arrows claim the Constructors’ Championship in all five of the years they had together.
He achieved 21 one-two finishes with Hamilton, but was largely placed into a number two role to the Briton as he won the Drivers’ Championship in four of those five seasons.
It led team principal Toto Wolff to describe Bottas as a highly efficient “wingman,” something that the 32-year-old said “hurts,” indicative of his frustration at falling short of a meaningful title challenge alongside one of the greatest drivers the sport has ever seen.
Russell is determined not to end up playing second fiddle, insisting that this won’t be the case if he performs to the best of his ability.
“If I perform I will not ever be in that position,” he told PA Sport.
“I would be disappointed if I found myself in that scenario because it means I have not done the job.
“And if anybody finds themselves in that position, they cannot be upset or disappointed with anyone else because they are there for one reason, and that is because they have not performed.”
Former Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok has recently suggested that Wolff will endeavour to ensure that any rivalry Russell has with his new team-mate does not reach the level of the seven-time champion’s feud with Nico Rosberg.
1996 world champion Damon Hill also advised that it would unadvisable for the 24-year-old to walk into Mercedes with the intent to “knock spots” off Hamilton, but such is the dynamic at the Brackley team that Russell does not believe such tensions are forthcoming.
“I don’t think it will become like that, regardless of performance,” he affirmed.
“We are different stages in our career and Lewis has nothing to prove. He truly wants to see me succeed and to help me.”
Russell managed four points finishes in 2021 with Williams, one of those coming in the form of a podium at the bizarre Belgian Grand Prix.
He became a Mercedes junior driver in 2017, and has therefore been able to absorb some information already from Hamilton, but now he is team-mates with his “superhero” idol, he is delighted to be able to learn and race in a competitive car.
“It is incredibly exciting and I find myself in a win-win scenario,” he explained.
“I am going up against the greatest of all time who has beaten everybody and I can only learn from him.
“Equally it can only be beneficial in the long run but the short-term, too.”
Now that the technical regulations have completely changed, the teams are essentially working off a blank canvas, making this the ideal time for the Briton to slot into the team alongside his compatriot who is learning about the new cars just the same as he is.
“Now is the best time to have this opportunity because we are starting afresh with new cars,” he stated.
“I would have loved to have had the chance last year but I know if somebody joined me at Williams they would have struggled because I knew the car and how to get the most out of the tyres.
“I was ingrained in that team, that car, and that philosophy as Lewis has been so ingrained in this team. Last year was a constant evolution but now is a complete fresh start and a good opportunity.”
Mercedes had a stuttering start to the 2022 campaign at the Bahrain Grand Prix but, following a disappointing qualifying, Hamilton benefitted from a double Red Bull DNF to finish third behind the Ferraris, while Russell ended fourth.