Russell admits that three years with Williams was 'too long' – but says there was 'no way out'
George Russell has admitted that the three years he spent with Williams was “too long” as he waited for a call-up to the Mercedes works team.
After dominating the 2018 Formula 2 Championship with ART Grand Prix, scoring 287 points to runner-up Lando Norris’s 219, then-Mercedes junior driver Russell was given his F1 debut with Williams. He spent three years there, during which time he also took a podium in the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix after stepping in for a sick Lewis Hamilton in the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, before replacing Valtteri Bottas at the Silver Arrows for the 2022 campaign.
In a recent episode of Beyond The Grid, Russell opened up on wanting to leave Williams for the reigning constructors’ champions.
“I think when we signed with Williams back in 2018, this was a team, bearing in mind, that had just spent three years scoring podiums, finishing P3, P3, P5 in the constructors’, and then they had a very bad year in 2018 where they finished last.
“But we thought that this was a team that at the time that can bounce back from this, and they'll be back in the P5 to P3 region of competitiveness. So, we all sort of agreed that three years was a good period, fighting for points, maybe for podiums.
“In hindsight, three years driving on my own at the back of the grid was too long. But, unfortunately, Claire [Williams, former Deputy Team Principal] did quite a good job at the contract negotiations, and there was sort of no way out.”
However, Russell added that joining Mercedes in 2020 would have been “incredibly tough” given the car was tailored to Hamilton, who would go on to secure a record-equalling seventh drivers' title that season.
“But when I look at this with the benefit of hindsight, I think joining Mercedes last year or even in 2020 would've been incredibly tough because going up against Lewis when that car has been evolved to suit his style of driving over so many years, that was his baby as such.
“Whereas now it's a fresh sheet of paper for everybody, everybody is starting from scratch, and this was probably the right time.”
The 24-year-old driver, who has scored three podiums and taken points in every 2022 race weekend bar the British Grand Prix – where he retired following a high-speed Lap 1 crash involving Zhou Guanyu – said that Mercedes “always believed” in his potential.
“Toto [Wolff, Team Principal] always said to me just keep doing your job on track, keep doing what you're doing, and you'll be in the car. And then obviously we had Sakhir 2020…
“I think they've always believed in me. And that's something that I feel so fortunate to have because they're never trying to put me on the spot and test me to see if you crack. They want to build you up; they want to make sure you fulfil your potential.”