To say the previous three seasons of George Russell’s motorsport career have been a whirlwind would be something of an understatement.
The Englishman shot to prominence in 2018 by bagging the prestigious F2 title, and he secured a first team drive with the famous Williams Racing F1 team in the process.
Following a tough debut season in what was clearly a difficult car to drive, Russell demonstrated his prowess in 2020, dragging performances out of the Williams FW43 that made everyone sit up and take notice. And when Lewis Hamilton was unable to race in Bahrain after testing positive for Coronavirus, Russell was the obvious choice to stand in at Mercedes as part of the junior driver programme set-up.
The rest is history, Russell driving a superb race before a botched pit-stop and puncture cost him what had looked like a certain race victory in his first drive for the team.
“That’s obviously behind me now,” Russell told Motorsport Technology during pre-season testing in Bahrain. “I’m not even thinking about that. But it does only feel like yesterday we were last here! I’ve spent probably more nights in the hotel here over the past four months than I have in my own bed at home, so it’s pretty crazy to think about it by the end of this coming three-week duration. But it’s great to be back, exciting. Anxious to see the performance of the car and fingers crossed we’ve made a step forward.”
Key to making those steps forward over the next few years will be the new team structure, made possible by the investment from Dorilton Capital. In a sport where money talks perhaps more than any other, it was a change that was needed to ensure the survival of one of the most famous of ‘privateer’ teams. The Williams tradition and ethos remains strong, fully endorsed by the Williams family and the team maintaining its traditional base in Grove, Oxfordshire.
“With Jost (Capito) and Simon (Roberts) at the helm and overseeing everything we now have a solid structure in place. The investment that Dorilton are putting in is substantial and we are in a much better position financially than we have been in previous years, which is allowing us to develop in more areas,” explains Russell. “I think this will probably be the best pre-season in terms of preparation that the team has had in years, so it’s all very exciting.
“Obviously Rome isn’t built in a day and Dorilton have short-, medium- and long-term goals. Short term this year is obviously to make the most out of what we’ve got. I think as a team it’s a fantastic opportunity to build for next year with the new financial and technical regulations.”
Whilst it’s all change at the top, there is a very familiar face coming back to offer guidance and advice to help a team get back to where he feels it belongs. Jenson Button followed a remarkably similar path to Russell before getting his F1 break with Williams and is now back at the team in the role of Senior Advisor alongside his various media commitments.
“Jenson is a great bloke, I really like him and have a lot of respect for him. I grew up watching him. I first remember watching F1 properly in 2009 and obviously that was when he was at his prime and then all the years afterwards. He’s just a top dog and he’s been there, done it. Loads of experience so it’s just great to have him almost as an advisor whenever needed to bounce ideas off, to convey any messages and having him as part of the team.”
As for Williams’ rivals for the season ahead? Despite the radical new regulations in place for 2022 and beyond, a pragmatic Russell initially still sees it as it was, with the aim to challenge the likes of Alfa Romeo and Haas with a view to bettering last year’s position.
“They were our rivals last year and we’ve got to at least be fighting with them, hopefully be ahead of them. That’s my goal personally and ultimately closing that gap to the midfield. In the short term the base foundations of the teams like Mercedes, Red Bull, Aston Martin are so strong that you can’t suddenly make leaps and bounds like an extra 5-10% in timing.
“But I do think the changes to the floor could potentially be in our favour as it’s an area we struggled to optimise last year due to finer details and now due to regulation that has gone. But ultimately until we’re properly out there on track, I couldn’t give you an honest answer.”
Despite all the recent structural and financial changes to the Williams team, there have been some important constants within the setup. One of those is the continuation of its technical collaboration with Acronis, now entering its fourth season as a valued partner. And Russell is only to well aware just how important having an expert in Cyber Security is to a developing team like Williams.
“It’s absolutely important,” adds Russell. “The data we gather at the track and the data we have at the offices back at Grove where we are developing all of the cars, the aerodynamic information… it’s so valuable. And you cannot afford to let any of that leak. So having Acronis there as our Cyber protection partner is absolutely vital. It gives all of us peace of mind that we’re in safe hands, that our data is protected.”