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Formula 1 British GP

Ben Hunt: How Russell is stepping out of Hamilton's shadow

The Mercedes man will start the Formula 1 British Grand Prix from pole and fresh from winning in Austria, as he finally underlines his credentials as a possible world champion

Sir Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, and George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, greet fans in the fan zone

Sir Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, and George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, greet fans in the fan zone

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

George Russell's delight at taking pole position at Silverstone was palpable. It was, of course, entirely understandable. Pole at his home race was obviously one to celebrate but it also comes as he is finally showing his full potential.

Forced to cut his teeth in Formula 1 while fighting at the back for Williams, his promotion to Mercedes came at the worst possible time.

The Mercedes production line has delivered a succession of duds meaning Russell has been unable to produce performances capable of matching his CV in the lower categories.

He has also spent his time in Lewis Hamilton's shadow. The seven-time world champion was Mercedes' de facto team leader and for the majority of Russell's time with the team, the focus has been on Hamilton's role in its recovery.

It was not easy for Russell to find his feet at Mercedes. The aforementioned car issues and Hamilton's reputation had rather pigeon-holed Russell into an awkward position of a number two driver.

But over the past 12 months there has been a noticeable shift that started before news broke of Hamilton's defection to Ferrari for 2025. Russell has stepped into the light after being in Hamilton's shadow.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, congratulates pole man George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, on arrival in Parc Ferme

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, congratulates pole man George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, on arrival in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

It is a coming of age for a driver who is much older and wiser than his 26 years - and shows one that has the ability to lead the team forward, whoever is selected as Hamilton's replacement.

Yes, he did record his maiden Formula 1 victory back in the 2022 Sao Paulo Grand Prix, but that proved to be a rare highlight in a Mercedes career of missed opportunities. The most recent of which was the Canadian Grand Prix where he had started on pole and succumbed to third place, falling behind Max Verstappen and Lando Norris.

He labelled it "a missed opportunity" and one wondered whether his promise, to move within those drivers held in the elite tier, was again going to be stifled.

He went someway to disprove that theory at the Austrian Grand Prix where he capitalised on Norris and Verstappen's tangle to take the chequered flag. The focus has been on the two drivers who made contact, but Russell needed to be in position to take full advantage.

Indeed, he had called it the previous day, pointing out that he had the best seat to watch how their duel would turn out. He showed foresight and a maturity not to be drawn into the conflict.

And then there was his brilliant performance in a damp qualifying session at Silverstone, where again he was best placed to take advantage of an error from Verstappen after the reigning world champion slipped off track and damaged his Red Bull.

Watch: An all-British one-two-three - F1 British Grand Prix Saturday Update

A fortuitous situation once more? Maybe, but while others had faltered, Russell was again the driver who benefitted.

Afterwards he said: "We're riding this wave at the moment, absolutely buzzing, but eyes on tomorrow. We've got a race to win, and it's going to be tight with Lando. Max is going to be fast as well, but I'm so excited right now."

Russell is doing exactly that, riding a wave of positivity at a time that has coincided with Mercedes producing a quick car, while Hamilton is headed for the exit and embarking on a new challenge.

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It is also a different mental fortitude to that shown by Norris, who too has come close to adding to his maiden win in Miami, but has so frequently taken the blame and beaten himself up.

The difference being that Russell had been hamstrung by Mercedes’ failings, but now, there is a feeling he has found his feet and has the tools at his disposal to finally show the world exactly what he can do.

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