The dire Williams FW42 offered George Russell few opportunities to impress inside the car.Charles Leclerc’s feat of scoring back-to-back GP3 (now Formula 3) and Formula 2 championship successes.
But he has the long-term support of Mercedes behind him. In a sense, that meant he could afford to treat 2019 as a kind of extended test session, with occasional opportunities for genuine racing thrown in.
“My goals were quite vague in the sense of ‘just go out there and learn as much as possible’ and try and maximise every single lap on-track,” he said.
“There’s been sessions or qualifying sessions that I’ve felt like they’ve gone very well, others that haven’t gone as well, and likewise for the race. So I probably wouldn’t change any of it really, because probably from the tougher experiences I’ve learnt more from that and it’s definitely helped me become a stronger driver.”
Qualifying: Lap time
The lower the lines, the better the driver performed
With a car that typically lagged around a second off the pace of their next-slowest rival, and often quite a bit more, Russell was usually locked in a straight fight with team mate Robert Kubica for who could take 19th place on the grid. And it often didn’t amount to much of a fight – Russell was never beaten Kubica on Saturday all year.
One of few occasions Russell could set his sights on rival cars came in Hungary. There he got within 0.053 seconds of taking his car into Q2, the closest Williams got all season.
But it also showcased how fickle the tyre performance was on a car which clearly lacked the downforce levels of its rivals.
“Formula 1 is so complex, especially with the tyres,” said Russell. “It is all about these tyres.
“I’ve probably only been really, really satisfied with the quali lap or a race on a handful of occasions. And most of the times it’s only me because the tyres have been in the good window and gave me the opportunity to do a good lap. The biggest thing I’ve learned from this year is this is getting these tyres working.”
Russell said his experience of Pirelli’s tyres in Formula 2 – where new 2020 team mate Nicholas Latifi has graduated from – was only of limited use. “It helped a little bit,” he said, “but F1 is a completely different ballgame.”
But he believes he will be in a better position this year as a result. “I now have a year of experience of understanding which tyres and what it takes to get them working well,” he added, “and that’s what I want to optimise because I know when I get them working well, I can do the job.
“But getting them working well is like trying to complete a Rubik’s Cube.”
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Qualifying: Classification versus starting position
Race: Start versus finish
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Race: Share of points
Russell had to come to terms with the fact that despite having the beating of Kubica virtually all season, one of the few occasions he didn’t was also when the team scored its only point. Had he not slipped off a damp track in Hockenheim he could have had it; had the team heeded his call for slicks earlier they might have had an even better result.
As it was, Russell scored the team’s second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth-best results. He seized on any opportunity to get into the midfield battle and impressively led an Alfa Romeo home eight times and beat a Haas on six occasions.
“It’s not season I would have dreamt of, but it’s probably a season I’d definitely look back and think it’s done me no harm,” he reflected.
“I’ve learned so much this year being in the position I’ve been. Race after race I’ve always come away with an experience that I’ve been able to take into the following one.
“Most importantly of all, I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve had a great team around me to allow me to do that. So I think the rewards will be greater when and if we have more performance in the future.”
Whether Williams are going to furnish him with a car which does better justice to his talents this year is something we’ll have to wait to find out.
Race: Results versus other drivers
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Race: Reasons for retirements
Quotes: Dieter Rencken
2019 F1 season
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