Top 50 Drivers of 2022
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Top 50 Drivers of 2022

Autosport 2022 Top 50: #5 George Russell

4th in Formula 1 World Championship

Autosport 2022 Top 50: #5 George Russell

Although Mercedes was out of title contention, Russell ended 2022 with his stock greatly enhanced by beating Lewis Hamilton in the standings and with a Formula 1 grand prix win to boot. 

Russell said he still “felt a bit of a rookie” at times in 2022, but only in the sense that, now racing for Mercedes, he had a bigger workforce and additional tools and systems to call upon. It was a moving target too, because the team had to redesign its simulation and analysis tools to ensure it could really replicate porpoising, which meant that what its drivers felt in the simulator wasn’t always as it really was on track. 

PLUS: Ranking the top 10 Formula 1 drivers of 2022

But the previous three years spent at Williams benefited Russell when he stepped up from junior to works Silver Arrows driver because he was more quickly comfortable with the unpredictable W13 than was new team-mate Hamilton, or so Mercedes feels. Russell reckons this is why he didn’t need to try the extreme early-season set-ups Hamilton did in a bid to find any way to improve car balance, and instead just got on with it.

Hamilton’s methods did give Mercedes additional data, but it wrecked weekends, while Russell was able to be smoother overall, such as in Saudi Arabia. Russell was, however, still struggling with Mercedes braking issues deeper into the season than Hamilton, which included his Brazil qualifying off ahead of his weekend of weekends at Interlagos.

Russell and Hamilton adopted different approaches to set-up

Russell and Hamilton adopted different approaches to set-up

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Russell was praised for his consistent results in 2022 – he rode his luck at times to take 15 top-five finishes in the first 16 races, with his unfortunate Silverstone crash with Zhou Guanyu the only blemish. He earned respect for going to check on the trapped Alfa Romeo driver in the Abbey barriers, while his calm and measured words as a Grand Prix Drivers’ Association director came to the fore. 

His team radio was brash and hilarious at different times, something Russell is already reflecting on going into 2023. And sometimes he erred while trying too hard, such as clouting Carlos Sainz at the start of the US GP or going off late in Mexico qualifying. Russell’s speed and progress throughout qualifying segments returned, with his Hungary pole an accolade topped only by his sprint and GP wins in Brazil.

There, he beat Max Verstappen in a sprint battle after defying him with a slower car in Spain, and soaking up late pressure from Hamilton in the GP proved Russell can succeed at the highest level.

Those Russell battles with Verstappen 

Spain

Russell and Verstappen had entertaining scrap in Spain

Russell and Verstappen had entertaining scrap in Spain

Photo by: Motorsport Images

 Approaching half-distance in May’s Spanish GP, Verstappen shot back up behind Russell after spinning off early on. They’d pitted on the same lap to shed their starting softs, then the Red Bull closed. 

 But Verstappen had a problem – his DRS was working intermittently, often closing mid-way down the long Barcelona straight. When he did get its full benefit, he could attack. On lap 24, with Verstappen threatening, Russell covered the inside, but not enough and Verstappen sent a dive to the Turn 1 apex. But he went deep and Russell nipped back ahead with better exit momentum, then edged the Dutchman half-off through the long Turn 3 in a move assessed and judged legal. Russell was sliding badly on his ageing mediums, but Verstappen’s DRS prevented another attack on the next tour. 

 Russell defended for a second time at Turn 1 on the lap the fight became for the lead when Charles Leclerc slowed with engine failure ahead, with Verstappen warded off for a third time at the same spot on lap 28. Red Bull then pitted him and he made the undercut ‘pass’ in free air before going on to win on a three-stopper.  

Brazil

Russell got the better of Red Bull driver in Brazil

Russell got the better of Red Bull driver in Brazil

Photo by: Motorsport Images

But Russell won in the Brazil sprint, this time with a successful actual pass. After both drivers had relegated shock polesitter Kevin Magnussen, Russell tracked Verstappen then gained with DRS before mounting a lap 12 attack at the first corners. 

The pair then came very close to contact at Turn 4 and, on the next tour, Verstappen got back on the gas between Turns 1 and 2 to snip off Russell’s space after the Briton had braked later for Turn 1. Verstappen then went so early to defend the Turn 4 inside run he ran over the painted pit exit demarcation, but stayed in front. Russell attacked through Turn 5 but couldn’t edge ahead. 

Alex Albon’s car being cleared from the Turn 2 runoff prevented any lap 14 exchanges, but Verstappen locked up and went deep at Turn 10 – gifting Russell critical tenths as his rubber cried enough, the reverse of Spain, albeit with the Red Bull on mediums and the Mercedes on softs here. 

On lap 15, Russell feigned to Turn 1’s inside, then used the extra momentum from a wider Turn 2 line to gain on Verstappen all the way to Turn 4 where he braked ahead and stole the lead he would never lose before winning his first GP the next day.

Russell celebrates his memorable maiden win in Brazil

Russell celebrates his memorable maiden win in Brazil

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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