George Russell was enjoying the first perks of his elevation into a Formula One race seat on Friday evening: his mother’s chicken pie and champagne.
It was off to the family home in Leicestershire for the 20-year-old and his girlfriend to celebrate Friday’s confirmation that he will drive for Williams next season. That takes the number of Brits on the grid to three, with fellow debutant Lando Norris, 18, at McLaren also joining Lewis Hamilton in the big boy’s league.
Russell’s mother Alison let out a fruitier version of ‘Oh, my God’ when he broke the good news to her. His father Steve had a tear in his eye. They have made what George called ‘unconditional sacrifices’ since his elder brother Benjy showed promise as a karter, becoming a world champion in that discipline, before chucking motorsport for university and a career selling medical equipment.
George Russell has become the third British driver confirmed for the 2019 F1 season
Williams will hope the 20-year-old British racer can revive their recent flagging fortunes
Born: Bristol, 13 November 1999
2019 F1 team: McLaren
Despite admitting he was more keen on motorbike racing as a youngster, Norris started in karting aged seven.
He won the world championship aged 14, the youngest person ever to do so.
He moved up through the junior series before facing in F3 in 2017 with Carlin. He won the title with 53 points to spare from his nearest rival.
Norris had in February that year been signed to McLaren’s junior driver programme, and in August set the second fastest time in F1 mid-season testing at Hungary.
After an attempt by Toro Rosso to sign him was rejected, McLaren confirmed Norris in their F1 race team for 2019.
Born: King’s Lynn, 15 February 1998
2019 F1 team: Williams
Russell also started his career in karting, in 2006, going on to win a string of British championships.
He moved into single seater racing in 2014, winning the F4 title.
Russell graduated to F3 the following year, like Norris he raced for Carlin. In 2017 he moved to GPS with ART, and won the title in his rookie season.
ART moved Russell up to F2 for the 2018 campaign, and he is on the verge of the title, with a 37 point championship lead. Only 40 points are still available.
Russell served as Mercedes test and reserve driver in 2018, before Williams offered him a race seat.
‘Dad was overwhelmed that one of his sons had got into Formula One after 20 years,’ said Russell, who leads the Formula Two championship with one weekend remaining, in Abu Dhabi next month, having taken the GP3 Series title last year.
Russell had been in contact with Williams since July but had to wait until the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi late last month to have his promotion confirmed by deputy team principal Claire Williams.
Prior to Friday’s announcement, it was a secret he kept from all but those closest to him.
However, flying home from Sochi, Russell was sitting near Hamilton. ‘I told Lewis in confidence about Williams and we had a good conversation,’ he revealed. ‘Lewis congratulated me and offered his support.’
Russell was test driver for Mercedes this season and is on the verge of becoming F2 champion
The two know each other reasonably well, with Russell being a Mercedes young driver and spending time in the motorhome around his F2 duties. ‘It has been a privilege to spend so much time in Lewis’s company,’ added Russell.
‘To see how someone I consider to be one of the best drivers ever works is an education I can learn from.
‘Some people say he is not overly committed or that he focused on other things. But that could not be further from the truth. He works extremely hard. He motivates the team to work in the right direction so well. He has a fast car but that is down to the things he says and does within the team.
Russell becomes the third Brit confirmed for F1 in 2019, with Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris
Being in Formula One can turn lives upside down. But for the moment he lives modestly in a one-bedroom flat in Oxford where he cooks for himself. The Williams factory in Grove is a 20-minute drive away.
Grounded, intelligent and quietly confident, he was born in King’s Lynn and attended Wisbech Grammar School, 15 miles away. His father was involved in a lucrative business processing and bagging up peas and beans.
At 6ft 2in, Russell will be near enough the tallest driver on the grid. It takes a watchful diet to keep his weight down. But last night, he was making an exception.
To be continued
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