Brazilian GP: George Russell on his F1 practice debut
Teenager impresses on Force India practice bow at Interlagos
By James Galloway at Interlagos
Last Updated: 16/11/17 10:30am
British F1 hopeful George Russell admits it felt "surreal" to make his practice debut at the Brazilian GP with the GP3 champion confident he is on the path to a full-time seat in future seasons.
Just 10 months after joining Mercedes' young driver programme, Russell capped a breakthrough 2017 by running for Force India in Practice One at Interlagos - with the 19-year-old performing impressively in his debut in the VJM10.
Having only previously driven the car in a simulator last week, Russell completed 29 laps and finished 12th fastest - just half a second slower in the same car than Esteban Ocon, one of the top performers of this season.
Russell's only previous track F1 experience in a 2017 car came at the Budapest test for Mercedes in July and the Englishman says making his Grand Prix weekend bow was a special feeling.
"That was probably the number one target - enjoy it," he told reporters.
"It's Formula 1, what I have been working towards for a long time. I feels kind of normal at the moment but when I really thinking about it it's really surreal. I'm here in Brazil driving in a Formula 1 practice session!
"I feel good, I feel ready and this is where I want to be."
Altough Russell has served notice of his talent this year by winning the GP3 championship, one of F1's two designated feeder series, the teenager's Force India opportunity appeared to come out of the blue.
However, Russell explained: "It's been on the cards for a while.
"After winning the GP3 title I was pushing Mercedes quite hard that I wanted to be given the opportunity.
"They arranged a meeting with Force India and it was looking quite positive. I was in Austin, the decision was meant to be made on the Sunday and it wasn't. It was then meant to be made in Mexico but it wasn't, so I was getting a little bit worried then.
"Then I got a phone call around 7pm on the Tuesday after Mexico saying we are doing Brazil and Abu Dhabi, so that cheered me up! It was a bit of relief."
With Russell likely to make the step up to Formula 2 next year, his first realistic opportunity to land an F1 race seat is likely to come in 2019 - although he insists he already feels "ready for an F1 seat" now.
"I'm doing a lot of F1 stuff this year with Mercedes, I've done a lot of simulator work, I feel I've really prepared well," he said. "I won the GP3 championship so I feel ready for an F1 seat, but we'll have to see what the options are.
"If you look at the facts the only options are Williams and Sauber, so we'll see."