George Russell: Mercedes driver’s F1 standing assessed after weekend of highs and lows at Canadian Grand Prix | F1 News

After a weekend of highs and lows at the Canadian Grand Prix, Sky Sports F1 assesses whether George Russell is receiving enough credit for his start to the season.

Mercedes’ W15 suddenly came to life at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to give the Silver Arrows a chance of joining Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren as 2024 race winners.

Russell gave himself the best possible opportunity to capitalise on the team’s sudden upturn in performance by taking pole in qualifying but made a couple of costly errors on his way to finishing third in the race.

The 26-year-old Brit apologised to his team over the radio for failing to maximise the car’s potential and later described the race as a “missed opportunity”.

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Russell reflects on his third-place finish at the Canadian Grand Prix

Russell looked devastated as he emerged from the cockpit at the end of the race, knowing a golden opportunity to claim his second grand prix victory had slipped away.

In some ways, it was a weekend that encapsulated Russell’s Mercedes career to date, with a display of elite speed tinged by a couple of costly moments, leaving room for doubt as to whether he is the rightful heir to Lewis Hamilton as the team’s leading driver.

Strong start at Mercedes

Russell spent the first three seasons of his F1 career with Williams before finally earning a promotion to Mercedes in place of Valtteri Bottas for the 2022 season.

Having had to make do with what was often the worst car on the grid during his time at Williams, Russell’s move to Mercedes was meant to catapult in him into contention for race victories.

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Watch on board as Russell took his first F1 pole at the 2022 Hungarian Grand Prix

He had gone some way to proving he was ready for F1’s top table when standing in for an unwell Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. Russell had outperformed Bottas and was on course for victory when a pit-stop mix up and late puncture robbed him of the win.

Russell would have to wait a whole further year to get to Mercedes, by which point radical new design regulations had been introduced for the start of the 2022 season.

Mercedes, who had won eight successive constructors’ titles under the previous rules, were caught out, and while was Russell was no longer fighting to get out of Q1, the victories he may have envisaged were not on offer either.

When Mercedes did occasionally find a track that suited the “diva” that was the W13, it was Russell who made the most of it. He claimed his maiden F1 pole in Hungary before adding his first Sprint and grand prix victories in Brazil later in the year.

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George Russell claimed his maiden grand prix victory in Brazil in 2022

Along with claiming Mercedes’ only win of the season, Russell finished his first campaign with the team 35 points clear of Hamilton.

It was suggested that Hamilton had sacrificed his own performance at times to experiment with the troublesome car, but however the results were spun, beating a seven-time world champion in your first season as team-mates was an impressive achievement for Russell.

At this point, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff would have been feeling confident that whenever Hamilton did eventually retire (because that was surely the only way he would ever leave the team), they had found their next leader.

A messy second campaign

Mercedes would fare little better in 2023, with opportunities for race victories extremely rare once more.

Russell was unable to repeat the trick of beating Hamilton, this time finishing 59 points behind his team-mate in the drivers’ standings.

Russell’s cause wasn’t helped by four retirements, three of which were no fault of his own. The fourth, however, was a memorable one that would leave something of a stain on his reputation.

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Russell crashed out on the final lap of a thrilling 2023 Singapore Grand Prix.

In the closing stages of the Singapore Grand Prix, where overtaking is hugely challenging, Russell was desperately chasing leader Carlos Sainz and second-placed Lando Norris, and was much quicker than the duo in front him.

Having failed in his attempts to pass the McLaren, Russell then made an error on the final lap and crashed into a barrier, leaving Hamilton to take third. The optics were perhaps worsened by a feeling that a flying Hamilton may have been able to get the job done and pass the other two cars for the win.

While even the greats make mistakes, Russell had missed an opportunity for victory in what would end as another winless season for Mercedes. It was ultimately the most memorable moment of a scrappy second season with the team.

Hamilton bombshell alters landscape

His status within the team would become an even bigger talking point in February 2024 when Hamilton shocked the sporting world by announcing a blockbuster switch to Ferrari for 2025.

Clues as to how Mercedes viewed Russell would surely be given away by who they pursued as Hamilton’s replacement.

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Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz reveals the story behind Lewis Hamilton’s shock decision to join Ferrari in 2025

For example, a move to poach two-time world champion Fernando Alonso from Aston Martin might hint at a lack of faith in Russell to deliver as the team’s leader, because the Spaniard certainly wouldn’t be looking to be anyone’s back-up, even at the age of 42.

In contrast, if Mercedes went for the youthful option of highly-rated teenager Andrea Kimi Antonelli, that would suggest they are comfortable with Russell in a primary position, at least while the Italian develops.

It ultimately turned out that Mercedes’ first choice was, and continues to be, to attempt to lure Max Verstappen away from Red Bull, amid off-track trouble for the constructors’ champions.

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Russell says that any team would be interested in signing Max Verstappen

While it’s fair to say that every single F1 team principal would love to have Verstappen driving for them, the very public nature of Wolff’s pursuit of the three-time world champion surely can’t have been enjoyable for Russell to watch.

The Brit has insisted he’d embrace taking on Verstappen in the same way he has the contest with Hamilton, but to achieve what is surely his ultimate goal of winning a world championship, it helps to be considered the top driver at your team.

Missed Montreal opportunity to crown 2024 form

It’s against that ongoing backdrop that Russell has made a hugely impressive start to his 2024 campaign.

While Mercedes once more started the season well off the pace of Red Bull, with Ferrari and McLaren also outperforming the Silver Arrows, Russell has given Hamilton an almost unthinkable beating.

Russell has finished above Hamilton in all but one of the nine qualifying sessions so far, while they are tied at 1-1 in Sprint qualifying.

That has largely carried over to Sundays, with Russell finishing above Hamilton in six of the eight races that they have both completed.

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Having set identical times, Russell pipped Verstappen to pole position in Canada

Russell retired late in the Australian Grand Prix after a controversial incident involving Alonso, with the Spaniard later punished for driving erratically in front of the Mercedes and causing the Brit to end up in the barrier.

While the stewards adjudged Alonso to have over-stepped the line, it was up for debate whether Russell could have done more to ensure he finished the race.

Despite Russell extending that advantage in Canada, it was – much like Singapore – a race that he ended full of regret.

While there had been extenuating circumstances in the form of rain and two Safety Cars, Russell failed to win from pole in the fastest car on the track and was guilty of a couple of errors.

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Lando Norris eases past both Russell and Max Verstappen to claim the lead at the Canadian Grand Prix

Running off track in the tough conditions saw him allow Verstappen and Norris past at different stages, with Wolff coming on the radio after the latter example to tell Russell: “Focus, George. Focus.”

The fact that Wolff felt the need to address his driver in this manner at such a crucial stage of a race, with victory still possible, was at the very least notable.

Letting Norris ahead was compounded as Russell collided with Oscar Piastri when attempting to overtake the other McLaren after stopping for fresh tyres under the second Safety Car. That actually allowed Hamilton to briefly take third, before Russell defiantly regained the position from his team-mate to salvage a podium.

“It was just one too many mistakes at key moments that cost us a shot of fighting (for the win) towards the end of the race,” Russell reflected.

What now for Russell?

While Russell and Verstappen are the same age, at 26 years old, the latter’s F1 career is clearly at a far more advanced stage, with 60 wins and three world titles.

With Russell’s disappointment visible at the end of the race, it was Verstappen – of all people – who attempted to console him.

Verstappen told Sky Sports F1: “I literally told George already before because he was a bit upset with himself probably, and I said, ‘mate, these things can happen.’

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Verstappen insists victory at the Canadian Grand Prix was especially satisfying as his car was not the fastest on the grid.

“We are all pushing to the limit. Sometimes it works out for you, sometimes you make one mistake too much and it can catch you out. But that’s racing as well. I’m sure he will look back and learn from it. We’re all very young so you learn a lot in your career.”

Verstappen has previously made errors under pressure, as did Hamilton as he battled for his seven titles, but both were given the opportunity to regularly battle for race wins from the start of their careers.

There is a reason for that, with the old adage being that the best drivers will always end up in the best seats.

Russell has done plenty to suggest he is one of the sport’s best drivers but has not yet been given a consistent opportunity to prove he is a champion in waiting.

It’s unclear whether it’s being mega-star Hamilton’s team-mate, or simply a contentedness with focusing on his racing, but Russell doesn’t receive quite the same fanfare as fellow championship hopefuls, such as Norris and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

One thing that would see Russell’s profile continue to grow is winning, and Mercedes’ improved performance in Canada can hopefully ensure he is part of a four-team battle for victories throughout the remainder of the season.

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The errors that cost Russell victory at the Canadian Grand Prix, including making contact with Oscar Piastri

For now, it’s Wolff’s perspective on Russell that is most important, with Mercedes extremely confident of returning to title contention in 2026 when the next set of regulations are introduced.

“On one side he had brilliance, then on the other side, maybe one or two (mistakes) we could have avoided,” Wolff said of Russell’s weekend in Canada.

At a crucial juncture in his career, Russell must ensure the brilliance that he undoubtedly possesses dramatically overshadows any mistakes going forward.

Formula 1 heads back to Europe as the championship moves on to Barcelona for the Spanish Grand Prix. Watch every session at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya from June 21-23 live on Sky Sports F1. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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