Team chief Toto Wolff hailed George Russell as a new star on Monday after his storming drive for Mercedes in Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix, while rival drivers said he had exposed Formula One’s need for a more level playing field. Mercedes boss Wolff said the 22-year-old Briton, released by struggling Williams to stand in for Covid-19 victim seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, had exceeded expectations with a polished personal performance throughout the weekend. Russell said he was “gutted” after finishing ninth, having appeared to be set for victory before a rare bungled pit stop and a late puncture gave Racing Point’s Sergio Perez his maiden win in his 190th race.
“It won’t have been his last attempt for victory,” said Wolff. “It’s just the beginning of a fairy tale that didn’t work out today. I would say that a new star has been born!”
While Russell deserved acclaim from Wolff, others pointed out that he was not the only driver whose talent was hidden by machinery that was uncompetitive.
“It’s a shame that a guy that is fighting for P15 every weekend, suddenly when you put him in a race-winning car, he’s 20-thousandths off pole,” said McLaren’s Ferrari-bound Carlos Sainz.
“If anything, for me, this demonstrates what F1 is missing — creating a much more incredible show if you could level the playing field and allow the driver to make more of a difference.
“At the moment, when you are one second off the pace, or two seconds off the pace, you cannot really see the last two-tenths from a driver that makes a difference.”
His team-mate Lando Norris agreed, saying “a lot of drivers could do something similar” in a Mercedes, but he added that champion Hamilton had additional qualities.
‘Need a Mercedes’
“We can all drive cars extremely quickly and maybe it’s just a car that suits George and probably suits a lot of other drivers as well,” he said.
“If you want to win a championship, you need to be in a Mercedes. So, I think a lot of drivers could, at some races, bring the fight to Valtteri (Bottas) or bring a fight to Lewis (Hamilton).
“But there’s a lot of traits which Lewis has, like his consistency to be on pole the majority of the weekends and have flawless races, without mistakes — those are his impressive traits.”
He added that he expected a different kind of race at Abu Dhabi’s season-ending event this week.
“I think maybe you’ll see a slightly different story. This (Sakhir) is a track with four corners. If there’s a track where it’s a bit easier for a driver to jump into a new car and do something special, it’s probably here.”
Wolff said Russell, who scored his first F1 points after two seasons with Williams, had delivered above expectations.
“He did that on Friday, he did it on Saturday in qualifying and his race was incredible. It’s not a sad day. It’s a day when we learned as a team. We have learned that Russell is someone we can count on in the future. He has the potential and all the ingredients a future star needs.”
Wolff added that it was not realistic to suggest Russell had earned a place alongside Hamilton for next season.
“He is a Williams driver, he is signed up to Williams and our driver line-up is Valtteri and Lewis,” said Wolff on Sunday. “So, I don’t see this as a realistic situation at this moment in time.
“I can understand that it would be an interesting situation to have them both in the team and a bit of a wild ride for all of us – but, maybe, we will have that in the future.”
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