“Now is my time.”
Those were the words of Mercedes junior and future Williams Racing driver George Russell, moments after sealing the 2018 FIA Formula 2 Drivers’ Championship in the most spectacular way possible – taking the chequered flag at the Yas Marina Circuit in what was the final F2 Feature Race of the year.
For Russell, taking victory under lights in the twilight conditions of Abu Dhabi only marked one of the many thousands of pieces in his 2018 jigsaw puzzle – a jigsaw that displays a season that was interlocked by success and pieced together by a 20-year-old’s drive and desire to achieve and become the best.
Entering Formula 2 off the back of a dominant championship-winning performance in the GP3 Series one year earlier, the challenges that Russell faced in 2018 were immense, with the arrival of McLaren protege Lando Norris in the same series not only posing a threat but ensuring that a second generation ‘Battle of Britain’ would take place.
In the opening round of the season at the Bahrain International Circuit, it was clear that this battle would be a season-long affair, with Norris drawing first blood by establishing an early advantage over his rival Brit, heading into the second race weekend of the season in Azerbaijan with a 27 point advantage.
From here, it would be game on for Russell, taking a spectacular victory in the second Sprint Race of the season in Baku before winning once again at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona in Spain, clawing back on the points difference between himself and Norris.
A difficult weekend of racing on the streets of Monaco was but a bump in the road and from racing at Paul Ricard in Le Castellet, France, Russell’s consistent dominance preceded him, finishing inside the top two on five occasions in six races to turn the championship battle to his own advantage, leaving his ‘former’ rival in Norris trailing and almost lagging behind.
CHAMPIONS!!!! ?? pic.twitter.com/zJoSPkVP5E
— George Russell (@GeorgeRussell63) November 24, 2018
The pinpoint accuracy of Russell left him as the obvious champion of Formula 2 in 2018 even before the season was over, and by delivering greater performances weekend after weekend, vanquishing some of the most promising drivers on the junior single-seater series ladder, adding the Formula 2 Drivers’ Championship crown to his ever-growing hat collection became a reality in the desert, converting pole position into another dominant victory:
“It’s been a very long and tough year for myself and ART, and we’ve worked really hard and probably from Baku we’ve been one of the quickest on track every single time,” said Russell after sealing the championship in Abu Dhabi.
“We’ve had a number of issues that have been hugely frustrating, but others have as well and it’s been a little difficult to get this across the line. But [in] that pole you saw the emotions there, and obviously, we knew what we had to do: to win it in style, and that’s what we did.”
Signing a multi-year deal with Acronis technical partner Williams Racing for 2019, Russell’s 2018 jigsaw can now be defined as ‘assembled’, with the Briton’s contract with one of the most iconic and successful privateer teams in Formula 1 being the centrepiece of the puzzle, ensuring that the driver’s graduation from junior racing will be a tasteful experience.
“It is a huge honor to join a team of Williams’ prestige and heritage. Formula 1 has been a life-long dream. From watching the races when I was a child, it feels surreal that I will now be lining up on the grid, alongside drivers whom I have admired for years,” added Russell.
“I would like to thank Claire [Williams] and everyone at Williams for their faith in making this decision, as well as Toto [Wolff] and the team at Mercedes for their fantastic support throughout GP3 and Formula 2.
“I am incredibly excited to start working with everyone at Grove and to take my first steps as a Formula 1 race driver. I cannot wait for Melbourne next year and to join Williams at the start of what we all believe will be the start of an exciting new journey.”
Partnering Russell’s youth will be the experience of Formula 1 returnee and crowd favorite Robert Kubica, who, by returning to the premier motorsport series, will perform what is arguably one of the greatest sporting comebacks of the 21st century while collectively, this marks one of the most exciting driver lineups on the 2019 grid.
Top photo: George Russell of ART Grand Prix celebrates after winning the 2018 FIA Formula 2 championship. © Zak Mauger / FIA Formula 2.