In Conversation with George Russell
Words and interview by PATRICK BOYLE
At the age of just 24, GEORGE RUSSELL placed 4th in last year’s World Driver’s Championship. Born in Kings Lynn, England in 1998, RUSSELL began his racing career in karting in 2006. Over the next decade, he won numerous British Championships, quickly making a name for himself in racing. In early 2017, RUSSELL joined MERCEDES-AMG PETRONAS junior driver programme, graduating to FORMULA 1 with WILLIAMS RACING in 2019. Following impressive performances across his time at WILLIAMS, RUSSELL made the leap to the MERCEDES-AMG PETRONAS FORMULA 1 Team in 2022. Racing alongside his teammate, seven-time World Drivers’ Championship winner, LEWIS HAMILTON, the young British driver has excelled. RUSSELL has also joined his teammate off the track in becoming an IWC ambassador.
IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN is famed for its unique approach to watchmaking, which combines the best of human craftsmanship and creativity with cutting-edge technology and processes. GEORGE RUSSELL recently visited the IWC Manufakturzentrum in Schafhaussen for the first time to experience the processes that go into every timepiece. Inaugurated in 2018 to mark the company’s 150th anniversary, the SCHAFFHAUSEN manufacturing centre has brought together all its production elements – components making, movement assembly and case making – under one roof.
Can you draw any similarities between the sophisticated engineering and design in IWC with that of MERCEDES?
Walking into IWC you could have believed that it was a FORMULA 1 factory. I think that the level of detail that goes into building these watches is so sophisticated, the craftsmanship, it’s so refined. They are probably working to even smaller margins than we are in FORMULA 1, just purely based on the size of the timepiece. It is just unbelievable to see. Firstly the technology, there was a lot of machinery that was very similar to what we have in the FORMULA 1 factory, but then also seeing the highly skilled people putting the watches together and adding that personal touch was really quite something.
If you were afforded the opportunity to design your own IWC watch, what would it look like?
I have two watches from IWC that are quite different but I love them both equally. I have the ceratanium Top Gun Watch and I also have the classier, chrome faced Portugieser Annual Calender. They both look quite different. It would depend on the occasion. I would need to have a detailed think about what I would want. Definitely one day I would love to have that opportunity. Maybe try to bring in a little bit of the blue that I am rocking on my helmet at the moment somehow, I don’t know how.
Who was your favourite driver growing up?
I didn’t necessarily have a stand out favourite driver but I think when I was very young MICHAEL SCHUMACHER was definitely a favourite. I think that when you’re a kid, you kind of favour the team or the driver who is winning or if you like the colours of that team. As an example, I quite like the colour red and SCHUMACHER was winning all of the time. I had a MICHAEL SCHUMACHER race suit when I was 4 years old that I used to use on my quad bike. So I would probably say MICHAEL.
You recently made the leap from WILLIAMS to MERCEDES. What are the biggest challenges that you have faced in adapting to a team that expects to compete for the Championship every year?
I think that it has been a really exciting transition for me, joining a team such as MERCEDES that has had so much success. I think that the biggest thing that I probably learned to start with and that I have recognised is just how exceptional all of the engineers and designers are within this team. I truly have recognised why this team has been delivering a World Championship winning team and car for so long and why, even after the difficult year relatively speaking that we have had this year, I have so much faith and confidence that we can turn this around and get the team back to winning ways.
As an F1 driver you are constantly travelling the world. How do you cope with the difficulties of changing time zones whilst maintaining top athletic performance?
I think that the shift in the body clock is probably one of the most underestimated difficulties in this sport. Not just for the drivers, but for every single team member. The biggest challenge that we had recently was going from the UK, to Singapore, to Japan. We ended up 8 hours different to the UK, flying back to the UK for a week, so going 8 hours west again, to then fly all the way over to Austin which is another 6 hours. I was just talking with one of my team members and realised that all we did every single day was shift the body clock. Every single day for 3 weeks. The thing that I do the most is to make it a slow transition. No more than a 1 hour per day shift. I try to shift my meal times with my sleep and I will always try to change the time on my phone and my watch to match where I am going. Even if I am in the UK and I have already shifted 3 hours, I will shift the time on my watch and phone 3 hours ahead. I think I am there.
When you are not racing or training, how do you wind down and relax in your free time?
Generally I just like to spend a bit of time with my family, friends and girlfriend. I think we always live quite a fast lifestyle, travelling from country to country, event to event, always on the move. So I just like to go back to my family home in the countryside, go for some walks with the dog and get away from the craziness. That is a really good way for me to sort of balance my life.
Other than Silverstone, what is your favourite track to race on? What city would you love to race in?
The place that I would like to go to in the future that is not currently on the calendar is South Africa. I feel like it’s really exciting that we go to every continent on the planet, Africa is the one that we are missing at the moment. I think that it would be a pretty spectacular thing as a sport to say that we truly are worldwide and that we race on every single continent. Sort of bringing that excitement to everyone. The track that I like the most is probably Japan. It is such an authentic circuit with so much character. There is so much history there. It has such a nice rhythm to it. It is a real joy to drive.
‘Drive to Survive’ has been massively successful in increasing the popularity of FORMULA 1, attracting many young drivers to enter the sport. What advice would you give to these young drivers who want to follow in your footsteps?
I think that the advice that I would give to any young driver would probably be the same advice that I would give to any young sportsperson and that is to just keep practicing, work hard and practice. I think that so often we over complicate many things we do but sometimes it is the basics that we forget. Simply working hard, practicing as much as you can whether that is on the go kart track itself, whether that’s on the PLAYSTATION game, whether that’s on e-sports games. There is so much opportunity to practice now, utilise it.
The F1 grid is nearly homogenous in ethnicity and gender. How do you think this can be addressed and do you see a time in the future where you will be competing against female drivers in The World Drivers’ Championship?
Yeah I mean FORMULA 1 and motorsport is incredibly male dominated. I think that a big reason for that is that when I was 8, 9, 10 years old there was not a single girl race and it wasn’t accessible to girls. I think girls didn’t think it was possible to become a FORMULA 1 driver, that it wasn’t possible to work in FORMULA 1, so it wasn’t even considered. Now we have a lot more women coming through. In FORMULA 1 now we have the W series which is F racing, FORMULA 1 has just launched an all-female racing category. I think that the tide is slowly going to turn slightly. Hopefully we can get more girls racing at grass roots level and can come through and hopefully one day we will see a woman racing in FORMULA 1. I am good friends with JAMIE CHADWICK who has obviously won the W series championship the past 3 years. She has ties with WILLIAMS and I have already mentioned a couple of times to WILLIAMS that we need to put her in a FORMULA 1 car and give her that opportunity to go test it and gain the experience. I think that the future in that regard is certainly exciting. As a team personally, we have our own programmes that we are running with regards to diversity and inclusion in MERCEDES so I’m really proud of the work that the team is doing there and we’re constantly doing more and working harder on the subject. I’m really excited to see where the sport is going to be in 5 years’ time. I think that so much is going on right now. FORMULA 1 is doing a huge push to make the sport more diverse and to give the opportunities to young girls or to women who perhaps haven’t had the opportunities. It’s going to be exciting. Hopefully one day we will see a woman on the grid.