F1 Report: Is GP3 champion George Russell the next British F1 hope?
Watch the F1 Report on Wednesday at 8:30pm on Sky Sports F1
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 30/10/17 12:47pm
Newly-crowned GP3 champion George Russell says he is ready to provide a solution to the British driver shortage in Formula 1, with the Mercedes protege telling the F1 Report he has his sights firmly set on a full-time seat in 2019.
Jolyon Palmer's exit from the sport means that, should Paul di Resta not secure a Williams drive, Lewis Hamilton will almost certainly be the sole Brit on the grid next season.
It would be the first time in F1's history that there have been so few Brits driving over a full campaign.
But fresh from claiming the GP3 title in Jerez in his debut season with ART, Russell, who tested for Mercedes during August's in-season test in Budapest, believes he could be next in line - and revealed he was even eyeing a seat for 2018 before options were closed off.
"Obviously I've done a lot of work with Mercedes this season, and I got an opportunity to drive the car in the mid-season test," the 19-year-old said on the F1 Report - which airs at 8.30pm on Wednesday night on Sky Sports F1. "I feel ready for a seat next season but I'm also realistic.
"It's all about timing in this sport and unfortunately the timing isn't quite right for next year. But 2019 is my main goal."
George Russell's career in profile
|2014||BRDC F4 Championship||Lanan Racing||1st|
|2014||Formula Renault 2.0 Alps||Koiranen GP||4th|
|2015||European F3 Championship||Carlin||6th|
|2015||Masters of F3||Carlin||2nd|
|2016||European F3 Championship||HitechGP||3rd|
|2016||Macau Grand Prix||HitechGP||7th|
|2017||GP3 Series||ART Grand Prix||1st|
The paucity of British drivers is certainly a rarity in a sport where as many as 12 participated in its first season in 1950. As recently as 2013, Britain had four drivers on the grid in Hamilton, Jenson Button, Di Resta and Max Chilton, while a total of 26 competed through the 1980s and 1990s.
But with Palmer being dumped by Renault before the conclusion of the 2017 season, the United States GP will be the first race since 2005 - when Button was disqualified for two events - where only one Brit competes.
There could be hope for the future, however, with Russell part of a talented crop of youngsters rising through the ranks.
"There's been a bit of a generation gap of the high-performing Brits," Sky F1's Marc Priestley, joining Russell in the studio with Natalie Pinkham, explained.
"But the great thing is that we've got a fantastic array of youngsters on the way up - and George fits directly into that category. So the future looks very bright for British motorsport and British drivers."
Russell's main GP3 title rival this year was Renault junior Jack Aitken, while GP2 hope Oliver Rowland is under the same Enstone stable. Lando Norris, meanwhile, is leading the F3 championship and impressed alongside Russell at the Hungary in-season test for McLaren, and Enaam Amed, the 2017 British F3 champion, is also highly regarded.
"Obviously Lando is having a great season this year, and a bit lower down Enaam Amed is doing well," Russell added. "We've gone through a bit of a spell where there hasn't been many British drivers coming into Formula 1, but I feel that in two or three years' time it could all change again."
Russell's journey and plans for next year
It's clear that Russell, a former BRDC F4 champion, is enjoying a meteoric rise in motorsport. Less than a year after being added to Mercedes' young driver programme, he was driving and shining in the W08 at the Hungaroring.
And all this just a matter of months after the Norfolk-born racer thought he would be giving up on his F1 dream.
"At the start of 2016 I was quite sure that my Formula 1 dream was over," he admits. "I had no links with F1 teams and I was setting my sights on DTM, and then suddenly everything changes.
"It all started when I drove in Formula 3 and I switched teams to Hitech for the 2016 season who ran the Mercedes engine," Russell explained.
"They phoned me up one day to do simulator work in Brackley. I did two days in a simulator as a bit of an assessment and things snowballed from there. At the end of the season they told me I'd immediately be part of their young driver programme, and they'd be putting me in GP3 with ART.
"It's all about timing in this sport, but all you can do is just keep performing. It sometimes feels like it's not going to happen but if you keep performing, beating your team-mates, winning races, it's all you can do."
So, what next for Russell as he looks to secure an F1 drive in 2019?
"My goal was to be in F1 next season but then I understood that all the contracts were firmly in place," he said.
His sights are now set on a championship recently dominated by Charles Leclerc. "Formula 2 is the next step."
Watch this space...
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