Such was his learning curve at Mercedes last season, George Russell says there were times he felt “a bit of a rookie”.
Last year Russell grabbed one of the most coveted positions on the Formula 1 grid, the Brit replacing Valtteri Bottas as Lewis Hamilton’s new teammate.
But the upgrade from Williams, too often F1’s wooden spoon team in recent years, to the constructors’ champions was a big leap forward.
It was one, however, it’s safe to say Russell finally mastered as the 24-year-old claimed the team’s only win of the season at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
“In some ways, I almost feel a bit of a rookie because the level at which this team operates – we’re talking about things I’ve never talked about in Formula 1 before,” Russell said according to Autosport.
“So it took me a while to figure out – what are the team’s processes during a race weekend, how can I make the car faster in terms of set-up, and so I felt a bit of a rookie at the start of the season .”
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Learning from his late season mistakes
But it wasn’t just learning the team process, there were also some valuable lessons on the track.
While Russell was one of the stars of 2022, opening the campaign with nine top-five finishes, there were a few missteps later in the season.
As Mercedes began to improve, the team was able to develop the car having resolved the seal issues, Russell admits he found himself pushing too hard at times.
This led to his collision with Carlos Sainz at the start of the United States Grand Prix, Russell causing Sainz to retire, as well as a mistake in qualifying in Mexico that cost him a shot at pole position.
“Yeah,” he said when asked if he had pushed too hard in those cases, “I think it ultimately comes down to experience.
“I know myself that in this sport you reach a certain level how hard you try.
“In this sport, you have to let things flow. You want to drive the car in anger, but sometimes that’s not the fastest way. Like I said, it comes back to experience.
“I’ve always known that driving at 99% is much more efficient than driving at 101%. At 101%, you’re on the cliff and you’re over the top.
“If you’re riding at 99%, you’ve probably only left 0.01 of a second on the table. If you’re driving at 101%, you’ve lost the car or crashed.
“You want to drive at 100% and sometimes you go at that 101%. So this is also an experience.”
Analyzing his mistakes in Mexico qualifying and the US GP
Russell admits in both Mexico and Austin his mistakes were solely driver errors.
While in Mexico he pushed too hard trying to make up for a small mistake, at the Circuit of The Americas he described his mistake as a “misjudgment”.
“I knew in Mexico going into this round for pole, I made a bit of a mistake, so I tried harder to make up for lost time,” he explained.
“It was inevitable to spoil the lap because I try to go as fast as possible anyway.
“Austin, I don’t think I necessarily tried too hard, I think it was just unfortunate, a bit of a misjudgment.
“At the end of the day I committed to the corner, I was waiting for Carlos to attack on the outside and he cut under me and by that point it’s too late.
“But again I’m trying to push those boundaries and going back to that feeling of being almost a rookie in some ways, you’re racing up front for the first time.
“It’s a completely different story compared to when you’re racing behind.
“How you approach Turn 1 is completely different. When you have few cars in front of you, despite the concertina effect of 15 cars in front of you.
“There’s a lot more dirty air when you’re behind 15 cars, compared to when you’re behind three cars. I’ve spent three years racing on the back, I’ve only got 20 races under my belt on the front.
“You learn that little uniqueness of being there, the same way I learned what it was like to be behind.”
2023 will be another steep learning curve
While Russell broke his duck last season by winning the Grand Prix of Sao Paulo, this season pundits predict there will be more wins – or at least battles – for Russell and his team-mate.
This will be another arc in the 24-year-old’s learning curve.
He won in Sao Paulo starting from pole position, holding off Hamilton to run P1 and taking the checkered flag.
Next season he may need to make a pass or five if he wants to win. This involves keeping his cool, planning his move and sometimes accepting that right now in this corner is not the right place for it, no matter how much he wants it.
And if he is able to string together a few wins, maintaining a Formula 1 World Championship race is another lesson he will have to learn.