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Fuel for Thought: George Russell on Monaco, Power of Social Media

The rising Mercedes star is the only Formula One driver to finish in the top five of every race so far this season.

Mercedes arguably stole the show in Barcelona between the one-two punch of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. 

Although the seven-time world champion collided with Kevin Magnussen in the first lap, dropping him down to 19th place, Hamilton steadily climbed up the grid to finish fifth. His teammate, Russell, though, became the center of attention because of his defensive skills, effectively blocking eventual Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen and Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez. 

Russell joined Mercedes after spending three years with Williams, and although there have been struggles with the cars and porpoising this season that have caused him real pain, the 24-year-old has been the most consistent driver on the grid. He is the only driver to finish in the top five of every race this season, snagging two podiums at Melbourne and Barcelona along the way. 

“It’s been a very consistent start to the season, no doubt, but we want more,” Russell says. “In a championship winning team, they want to win. I’ve joined this team, thriving for victories. And although I’ve been in the top five every race so far, I want to go stand on the top step of the podium.”

The Brit entered this season with, in his words, “an open mind,” especially given the amount of changes that came to F1 this season. “I knew that there were going to be some surprises, and there was no guarantee that we would get it right and that we would be the fastest out of the box,” he says.” But I had to face that no matter how the season started, we’d be able to develop and fight for victories and championships. And I think last weekend in Barcelona was proof of that.”

As F1 heads to the French Riviera, Sports Illustrated spoke with Russell about the crown jewel known as Monaco, dealing with the pressures that come with being a Formula One driver and his life motto. 

George Russel of Mercedes-AMG Petronas arrive into the circuit before race of Spanish Grand Prix

Fuel for Thought is Sports Illustrated’s exclusive Q&A with Formula One’s biggest names. The following questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Sports Illustrated: How do you deal with the pressure that comes with the territory?

George Russell: I think pressure is a big thing. As an individual, you’re kind of in control of that. You can let things bring you down, you can read things that aren’t necessarily going to be positive for your performance, or you can sort of not look at it and put that to a side, not let it bring you down, and you are focusing on the job at hand to deliver best for yourself. For me personally, I’m here to win, and every single weekend I go out, I’m not trying to please… Social media is a brutal world these days, and you just got to always take everything with a pinch of salt.

SI: Looking back over last weekend, what stood out about the Spanish Grand Prix that didn’t make the headlines?

GR: The limelight was sort of on us that weekend so I think it was all out there in the open. I think something I’ve noticed since joining Mercedes is that it doesn’t matter what weekend it is, every single lap is scrutinized. Whereas myself previously at Williams, if you were to have made a mistake, sometimes people wouldn’t even notice. That is just the difference. The standout thing is that as a team, we showed some really great pace. I think Lewis was absolutely exceptional. On Sunday, the pace he showed was extraordinary. I knew it was only a matter of time before we saw what I saw firsthand: what he’s truly capable of. The performance he put [out] on Sunday was was incredibly impressive.

SI: What is the biggest thing you’ve either learned from him or the biggest piece of advice that he’s given you?

GR: He is striving for more. He’s a seven-time world champion, he’s 37 years old, and he’s still got so much motivation, so much hunger. The way he rounds up all the troops to get the best out of everybody is truly inspiring, and he’s working on every single little detail. So I think everybody knows how talented he is, but I think a lot of people presume he just turns up last minute, leaves first thing and just lets his talent do the talking. But that really isn’t the case.

SI: Looking ahead to Monaco, what should fans at home be watching for? What part of the track would you say is the most challenging and why?

GR: Generally, Monaco is the most challenging circuit of the year. I’ve just been driving with simulators, and it’s more knackering driving on the simulator than some other racetracks in reality. To put it into perspective, it’s nonstop. You don’t have a second breath. You’ve got to be on every single second because a one-centimeter mistake can be the the end of your whole weekend, whereas on an ordinary circuit, you have a bit more margin. Towards the end of the track, you’ve got a really high speed section around a swimming pool, which is always a pretty spectacular drive, looks pretty spectacular from the TV. And that’s where, as drivers, you got to be pinpoint perfect. I’m excited for the weekend and need made sure to get a good night’s sleep because you need to give it absolutely everything. 

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SI: Who is George Russell? 

GR: Just the normal guy who drives around, has a fortunate life and gets to live a dream driving a Formula One car around the 23 best circuits in the world. I’m still the same guy, I feel, as I was when I was growing up, the same friends and family. I try and keep my feet on the ground, try to stay humble, but it’s difficult when you live in a life that is so scrutinized. The spotlight is on always. You’ve got to have your wits about you, not just when you’re on the track but also when you’re off the track. And even here talking to yourself today. I’ve got to be aware that I don’t say anything out of line or something I might get me in trouble, that is taken the wrong way. It is something you’ve got to sort of learn and build upon as you grow up and mature. 

Max Verstappen and George Russell after Spanish Grand Prix 2022

SI: What are three songs or artists that you’ve been listening to lately?

GR: Ed Sheeran and Coldplay. They’re two, and I can’t think of a third at the moment. 

SI: I read that you have a life motto. Where did it kind of come from? And how would you apply it to your life today both on and off the track?

GR: I’ve got a bit of a new one that I turned to these days: You can have anything that you want but not everything you want. It’s something that sort of came to me when I was actually with my engineers, talking about setup and trying to tune in the car and make it faster. Ultimately, it’s always a compromise. You can’t have the best of everything. That just is not possible. And when that sort of clicks in my mind, it goes to my personal life as well. I want to be a successful Formula One driver. I need to train and be disciplined, but I can’t go out on the weekends with my friends getting drunk. So I choose [that] lifestyle because I can’t have both [or then] I wouldn’t be the driver I am today, as an example. So it’s healthy eating, sleep, whatever it may be. I think anybody, if you put your mind to it, can work hard. You can achieve anything, but you can’t achieve everything. And I think that’s that’s an important one. I think we need to remember to focus on one thing.

SI: Is there anything either about yourself or about Formula One that you think fans would be a little surprised to hear? Or maybe that they don’t quite understand?

GR: I think all of us in Formula One from the driver’s side, we’re all pretty humble people, and I think you’d be able to have a good conversation with any of us. Whether it’s via Netflix or through a TV, it is obviously hyped up to make the show a bit more exciting.

Obviously, when the helmets are on, the animal instincts come out and you become a bit of a warrior, and nothing else matters. But, I think there’s a good group of people in Formula One at the moment. There’s respectful sort of friendly relationship between a number of us.

SI: What is your happy place outside of racing or outside of being at the track or the factory?

GR: Spending time with my friends, family, girlfriend—just totally getting away from it. I’m going away, actually, next week after Monaco for two nights with my whole family to a place in Scotland to just be totally secluded, away from everything, no phones. There’s no signal. That sort of brings me back to reality. I kind of wanted to do it after Monaco as well because it’s one of the most intense races of the year, physically and mentally draining. And then suddenly, we’re down to the countryside. 

SI: It’ll be nice to be just a 24-year-old for once and kind of step away a little bit.

GR: Yeah, definitely. I still feel young. I still feel like I’ve got so much to experience in life. Suddenly you’re in this circus and everything is so crazy. We’re traveling around the world to 22 different countries, living [the] dream, living such a fast lifestyle. There’s not a moment to breathe, not a moment to think. Sometimes you need take a step back and take it all in and go again and sometimes you just get too caught up. 

SI: How are you, genuinely, because it’s been a hard two years?

GR: I feel good, to be honest. It’s not always sunshine and glory, but you need to always find a way to make sure that you’re happy, as simple as that really is. Racing, Formula One, [it] is my life, but if I want to be successful, if I want to achieve what I want to achieve, I need to make sure I’m happy because if I turn up miserable or anxious or whatever it may be, I’m not going to be able to perform. That is sort of everybody’s number one goal, first and foremost. If you managed to tick that, I think you’re doing pretty well in life. As a competitor, your mood swings pretty drastically depending on how you perform. I felt like I did a pretty reasonable job over the weekend so I feel pretty good. I’m ready to go again. But for example, Saturday in Miami qualifying, I had a really bad day. I underperformed and felt like crap that evening. It takes a couple of nights before that wears away but yeah, I feel good. I feel like I’ve got a good handle on all of these things, and I feel like I know how to react following a good result and equally what I need to do to bring myself back to the happy place if I have a difficult day or weekend.

SI: What is one question you wish people would ask you more often and how would you answer? 

GR: One thing I do like to talk about sometimes is social media. And I think it’s such a beautiful and an amazing platform sometimes to bring people together, to share news. But equally, there’s so much about it that needs to change. As my profile has risen, I’ve learned more and more how brutal that industry can be and how unfair to so many people. It trickles down not just to people who are known or on television but to children who are at school, getting bullied or not even getting bullied necessarily but feeling pressure because of not getting enough likes on their Instagram photo or somebody made a bad comment. They have this constant scrutiny and anxiety of trying to fit in in the world. This is something that I really wish can be highlighted more, and more can be done to make it a nicer, safer place that spreads more positives.

SI: Do you have any advice for this generation about how to navigate that world? 

GR: I don’t have all the answers to be honest. It is so difficult because we are all human beings. I think not falling into the trap of looking at others and thinking their life is so amazing [and] wondering why your own life isn’t as good as theirs. Because even myself when I post, I post, for example, a photo that I look the best in, that I’m showcasing the best version of myself. I’m not showcasing my average, my normal. I’m not showcasing my worst. I’m only showcasing that top 1 %, and often people’s lives seem much greater, better, [more] positive than yours. Even I, when I look at others, I’m like, ‘Wow, what an incredible life they’re living’ or ‘This person’s looking great.’ I think we all will learn over time that this is not a true reality. But I didn’t know. What’s the say? Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Whenever I think that, it becomes even truer with with social media because there are just nasty people out there. It shows more about them than yourself. Easier said than done. I know that firsthand. I wish I had the answers. I think we all do, especially with this one. It’s one of those tricky topics, especially for our generation.

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