MANAMA: George Russell was left with mixed feelings after losing out on an almost certain maiden Formula One win on his Mercedes debut in Sunday’s (Dec 6) Sakhir Grand Prix.
The 22-year-old, standing in for Lewis Hamilton after the seven-times champion tested positive for COVID-19, looked at home in his compatriot’s car as he wrested the lead from pole-sitting teammate Valtteri Bottas and set a commanding pace.
But a pitstop mix-up set him back and a subsequent puncture dashed his hopes for good.
“Obviously, on the one hand incredibly disappointed and gutted to miss out on a victory, not only once but twice it went away from us,” Russell, who finished 9th, told reporters on a Zoom call at the floodlit Bahrain International Circuit after the race.
“So part of me is gutted, part of me very proud and privileged to get this opportunity.”
Mercedes-backed Russell, who is in only his second season in Formula One, usually races for the German marque’s engine customer Williams where he has been placed to learn the ropes.
The Grove-based squad are last in the overall standings and Russell, who until Sunday had not scored a Formula One point, had not expected to be able to overhaul the team’s regular driver and four-year Mercedes veteran Valtteri Bottas.
But he appeared to easily have the measure of the Finn, including putting a bold move around the outside of the 31-year-old, as he charged back to the front of the field after the tire mix-up had dropped him to fifth.
Certainly he left no one, not even himself, in any doubt that he has what it takes to be a Formula One winner.
“From a personal perspective this has been a great weekend of validation,” said Russell.
“I said if I’m within two tenths (of Bottas), I’ll be really pleased with that.”
Russell is seen by Mercedes as a star of the future who they hope can one day win races and championships for their works team.
They have denied looking at this weekend as a shootout between Russell and Bottas for a 2022 drive at the team.
But Russell hoped he had given team boss Toto Wolff a headache with his performance on Sunday.
“The best way to do your talking is on track," he said.