The Kings Lynn driver has been part of the Mercedes junior programme since 2017. That year, he would dominate the GP3 series, wrapping up the title before the final round of the season – earning him a seat in Formula 2 with ART for the following season.
He would then win his one and only season in F2 and in 2019, would make his Formula 1 debut with Williams.
Throughout his junior career, Russell has done a lot of winning – quickly moving up through the ranks.
But fast-forward two years and the Brit remains at Williams, in a car regularly rooted to the rear of the grid.
During his three years with the team, Russell has had to sit and watch as F1’s abundance of young talent fight at the front.
The increased confidence in youngsters
In recent years, there has certainly been a change in philosophy, especially amongst the bigger teams: younger, less experienced drivers are being given a shot.
Charles Leclerc made his Ferrari debut aged just 21, Pierre Gasly got the call-up from Red Bull at 23 and Max Verstappen won his first-ever race for the Austrian team at the very tender age of 18.
All three drivers had spent just one complete season in F1 before moving to a front-running team – and using these examples, it’s easy to see why Russell could be frustrated with his slow progress.
Despite the strong rumours suggesting that the Williams driver will replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes next season, it’s taken three years – and nothing is guaranteed yet.
The most compelling comparison can be made between Russell and Leclerc.
Russell won the F2 series in 2018, a year after Leclerc.
The Monegasque driver spent a year with Sauber before Ferrari promoted him to the team. Since then, he has taken two victories, nine pole positions and 12 podiums.
Russell meanwhile, has been stuck in a team that has scored just one point since his arrival, and despite his stellar qualifying performances, has nothing of note to show for it.
His only chance to really show what he could do in a competitive car came at last year’s Sahkir Grand Prix, replacing Hamilton at Mercedes – a race he deserved to win – but was cruelly unlucky.
Watching previous winners of F2/GP2 Gasly and Leclerc getting the opportunity to race at the front so early in their F1 career will certainly be frustrating for the hungry Russell.
The class of 2019
Three rookies emerged in 2019; Russell, Lando Norris and Alexander Albon.
The three topped the standings in F2 the previous year; Russell won that championship but has had the least success in F1.
Norris joined a resurgent McLaren, who have shown this season they are capable of scoring podiums.
Albon was quickly thrust into a Red Bull after just half-a-season in F1, replacing a struggling Gasly.
Despite being demoted to reserve driver for this season, the Thai driver scored two podiums during his year-and-a-half with the team.
Despite being the standout driver in F2 back in 2018, Russell has had to watch his fellow graduates taste champagne while he battles outside of the points.
Will Mercedes still be dominant?
Russell could afford to be slightly more patient with Mercedes, given their success during the turbo-hybrid era; a move to the Silver Arrows would almost certainly guarantee a car that can win races.
But with the vast regulation changes scheduled for 2022, nothing is set in stone.
Will Mercedes still be able to dominate next year? Red Bull dominated at the start of the 2010s, but it’s taken up until this year for them to be truly competitive again – that kind of uncertainty isn’t ideal.
The previous seasons could have arguably been Russell’s best opportunities to win races and drivers’ championships – even if he would have been against the seemingly unbeatable Hamilton.
Will he have any better chances? Time will tell.
But Russell – now 23-year-old – has seen his friends grow and enjoy success while he has trundled around at the back.
With everything going on around him and many questions over the future, Russell’s patience is being seriously tested.
Image credits: Formula1.com
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