A pointless rookie season in a desperately uncompetitive car, comprehensively outperforming his team-mate but ending up classified behind him in the final standings, an affiliation with a top team that means he has bright prospects… Russell’s maiden F1 season had clear parallels with Fernando Alonso’s at Minardi.
While he couldn’t really show how good he was given the lack of opposition, he did outclass Robert Kubica in all areas except first laps – an area Russell admits he must improve on. But he was fast, ultra-professional and learned everything he could during a character-building first season that showed his all-round class and potential.
What stands out as the strongest performances in terms of getting it right? The Suzuka weekend seemed strong despite the car problem in the race, Hungary also was good…
I’d say Suzuka, Monza, Hungary. Monza was a really strong one for us or for me, it was a bit unfortunate we had a bit of an issue 'with the car and my final run' in Q1 and picked up some damage somehow, we’re still not too sure how we did it and I lost all my downforce for my final run. Everyone sees Hungary as exceptional and it was very good, but there was nothing standout versus other races I’ve done.
Has this situation allowed you to focus a little more on your craft as there are potentially fewer distractions for you in terms of racing?
There’s a lot of things I’ve picked up this year and I’ve managed to fine-tune over, lets say, what Lando [Norris] or Alex [Albon] could have done, because if I was in their shoes, every race you know you’ve got to fully optimise because that’s the difference between qualifying P7 for them or P13, so you don’t have an opportunity to go out on a brand new set of tyres in FP3 say ‘we’re going to try this’ whereas I can. That’s given me an advantage and I feel I am a more complete driver because of it.
Blue flags have been a new experience for you, so how have you handled that and worked on improving it?
It’s incredible. We do a lot of analysis on the efficiency of our blue flags as there’s a huge amount of lap time to be won and lost. You lose a lot of tyre temperature backing off and for us, with not a huge amount of downforce, the tyres drop out of the window. So you have to find a way to let cars past and not lose temperature.
Are you confident that if you were in a midfield car you are at a level where you’d consistently score points, despite the fact you’ve not been tested at that level yet?
The team, over the years, makes a chart of where they believe a driver performs, taken out of consideration with the car performance so they can judge who they believe is the best or the worst driver over the course of five years. So when it comes to choosing who they want in the car, they’ve got it on paper where everyone fits. It’s quite interesting to see that.