Russell reveals 2am ‘bathroom’ call from Toto Wolff
George Russell says a 2am phone call from Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff while he was in his Bahrain hotel bathroom on Tuesday morning set in motion a whirlwind 24 hours.
Mercedes confirmed on Wednesday morning that Williams had released Russell for a one-off with the Black Arrows outfit at Sakhir after Lewis Hamilton had tested positive for the coronavirus.
But between Wolff’s early morning phone call the day before during which the Austrian said he wanted Russell to replace Hamilton and confirmation of the deal, it was a “very anxious” wait for Russell.
“I got a phone call from Toto at 2am on Tuesday morning,” Russell told the media on Thursday in Bahrain.
“I was actually in the bathroom in the moment which was slightly awkward. I answered the phone, he said ‘George, are you in the bathroom?’, I said ‘Sorry, I am in the bathroom’.
“He said ‘Unfortunately Lewis has caught Covid, he’s doing well, he’s healthy and feels fine which is most important but we want you to drive’. I said ‘Right, OK’.
“Obviously a bit of a sleepless night. Then we made it happen throughout the following day.
“I had 64 phone calls on Tuesday pinging between so many different people. I’m glad we got there in the end.”
While Russell had no doubts about Mercedes’ will to put him in the car, the 22-year-old wasn’t sure that Williams would agree to loan him out.
“I was very anxious on Tuesday waiting to find out if we could strike a deal with Williams,” he said. “I need to say a massive thank you to them for allowing me this opportunity. And here we are.”
“It feels strange to be back with Mercedes,” he added. “Obviously I spent two years as their test and simulator driver.
“I know all of the guys which makes things a lot easier to get back into the team and just being bombarded with information at the moment to learn ready for the weekend ahead.”
Read also: Di Resta reckons Russell could ‘easily’ qualify P1 at Sakhir
Expectations are high for Russell to perform well given the chance to race the fastest car on the grid. But the Briton insists he’ll put his head down and try to do his best without setting a specific target.
“Valtteri has been pushing Lewis a huge amount over the years, I know it’s not going to be an easy task coming in,” he said.
“Any driver when you’re in the groove, you’re integrated into the team – the level I was at with Williams just having spent two years in the same car with my same engineers, same mechanics and changing suddenly, there’s so many new things to learn.
“I’ve got no expectations, no targets. Just build up to it over Friday, learn as much as I can and just do my best.”
“So this is DAS?” 👀 @GeorgeRussell63 #SakhirGP pic.twitter.com/G2KeyOGsjz
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 3, 2020
As a Mercedes protégé and one of F1’s brightest young talents, Russell is seen as Hamilton’s most likely successor at some point in the future. But the Briton doesn’t believe his one-off drive with the Brackley squad this weekend will have any bearing on his future.
“One race doesn’t define a driver’s capabilities or the decision-making for something that’s over 12 months away,” he said. “So from my side that is not even in the back of my mind.
“I’m going to go out there, enjoy it, learn as much as I can. Because obviously I have a job to do back on my return to Williams which is to try and push that team forwards as well, to maximise that learning from Valtteri, the team, whoever.
“In terms of the future, that’ll be judged over the course of the season and what’s happened in the past as well, not just one or maybe two races,” he added.
“From my side I think there’s no pressure. I’m being thrown in at the last opportunity. I haven’t driven their simulator in two years.
“My seat is three years old. I’ve got so much information to learn and going up against Valtteri isn’t going to be easy.”
While he’ll be well acquainted with his environment this weekend, Russell will be sitting tight, quite literally, in the cockpit of Hamilton’s Merc W11.
“It definitely was a tight squeeze,” Russell said. “My size 11 feet were a struggle, so I’m having to wear size smaller shoes than would be ideal.
“”I spoke with Bono [Hamilton’s race engineer], he said: ‘I’m sure we can make some mods to your body!’ Ha, not too sure, that’s what I was thinking. But no, it’s all good!”
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