George Russell, a Mercedes junior driver, got an opportunity of a lifetime when the German team asked him to replace Lewis Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, after the Briton was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Russell’s performance was superb, and he was in a good position to win the race, before a pit stop mix-up and a tyre puncture ruined the race for him.
However, the young Briton says he “learned more from defeat in Sakhir” than he would have if he had won the race.
“Dealing with victory and success is easy, it’s how you deal with disappointment that makes you the person you are,” Russell said.
“The race in Sakhir taught me that if I want to fight for championships, I’m going to have disappointments and I need to be able to wake up on Monday morning and put that disappointment behind me and focus on the next race.
“Because it’s not how you perform at one race, it’s how you perform over the course of the season.
“You need to not dwell on the disappointments, you need to use it to motivate you even more and to come back fighting.”
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Russell then goes on to explain how it felt to be able to replace a seven-time world champion at the top team in Formula 1.
“I went in there thinking this is a huge opportunity to prove what I can do. I worked incredibly hard until after midnight for three days in a row in the days leading up to that race, learning as much as I can.
“And I didn’t let the pressure get to me. Obviously, there were nerves, but as soon as the helmet was on I was focused on going as fast as possible or leading the race or going for a specific overtake or whatever.
“My mindset really was, just go for it, absolutely go for it. I look back on that Grand Prix with a lot of pride.
“Part of that is we’ve all seen this year how difficult it is to change to and adapt to new teams and new cars. We’ve seen a lot of top, top drivers changing teams, and it’s not easy.
“I had a day of preparation in a car that didn’t fit, in a seat that didn’t fit, and I think the job we did with the limited preparation was great.
“My engineers at Mercedes did such a fantastic job to give me the information that was necessary, to not overload me with unnecessary stuff and make me as prepared as possible.”
Ultimately, the experience allowed Russell to become even more confident that he has what it takes to fight for the championship in a top team.
“Looking back, it was an exceptional race, but the weekend… I thought it was far from our potential, because I didn’t fit in the car, I didn’t really know the limitations, I didn’t know how to get the most out of it. So that has filled me with a lot of confidence.
“I’ve always believed in myself but until you’re handed the opportunity there’s always that small element of the unknown. How will I deal with the pressures when the time comes?
“But I felt comfortable really. When I was sitting on the grid, I felt like this is where I want to be every single week and I fought so hard to get to Formula 1 and fought so hard through my whole career, and this is what it’s all about.
“I’m learning my trade at the moment, but I don’t want to be in this position my whole life at the back end of the grid. I’m here to win.
“It’s been two and a half tough years and I feel like I’ve built up a toolbox of skills that I would not have if I’d been winning races from day one,” George concluded.