2022 F1 driver rankings #5: Russell RaceFans

From the moment George Russell stepped into Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes for the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix and almost drove it to victory, his Mercedes future became inevitable.

Finally, in 2022, Russell received his highly-anticipated promotion into the factory Mercedes seat alongside one of the greatest drivers of all time. Now he could finally fight at the front and be in contention for poles, wins and possibly even a championship title.

At least, that was how it was supposed to be.

Even Russell had to admit that he expected to have more success than he and Mercedes were able to achieve over the start of the 2022 season. The team’s W13 was radical, rigid but not rapid. And as Russell prepared for his first weekend as a full-time Mercedes driver, he and the team knew they would likely not be fighting for the win, for the first time in almost a decade.

George Russell, Mercedes, Imola, 2022
Russell’s Imola race was impressive

After memorably drawing attention to his predecessor Valtteri Bottas qualifying ninth in a Mercedes at Imola in 2021 after the pair collided during that race, Russell started his new season by qualifying ninth in a Mercedes for the opening round of the year in Bahrain. Meanwhile, Bottas put his Alfa Romeo sixth.

But after a strong start, Russell moved up the order and ran behind Hamilton for most of the race, following him home in fourth after the two Red Bulls retired. Then the next weekend in Jeddah, Russell maximized his points by taking fifth place behind Red Bulls and Ferraris after being far ahead of Hamilton in both qualifying and the race.

With Mercedes scrambling to unlock performance from their stiff and sensitive new car, Russell did a commendable job of getting the most he could out of each weekend. Surprisingly, he even built up an impressive streak of beating Hamilton on Sundays – albeit with a little bit of luck along the way.

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As Formula 1 returned to Albert Park, Russell took advantage of a perfectly-timed Safety Car to pit and keep track position, jumping up to third place ahead of Hamilton before being passed by Sergio Perez. When Max Verstappen’s Red Bull broke down, he inherited third place back and stayed there to secure his first podium in Mercedes’ colours.

Russell was consistently in the top five early on

His race at Imola was deeply impressive. Starting 11th on the grid with Mercedes clearly struggling for pace relative to their rivals, Russell drove well and even overcame a pit stop equipment failure that left him on too high a front wing angle when switching to slicks to hold off Bottas in the final laps and take fourth place. Then in Miami, fortune smiled on him again when a convenient Virtual Safety Car worked perfectly for his strategy, allowing him to recover from a disappointing qualifying to again finish ahead of Hamilton in fifth.

When Mercedes shipped a wealth of upgrades to Spain, Russell made the best of them and took his second podium of the season after leading some of the race as strategies played out at the front of the field. The car especially did not enjoy the bumpy surface of street circuits, so coming away from Monaco and Baku with a fifth place and a podium in third was about as good as he could have hoped to achieve.

Suddenly, Russell had earned a reputation for being the most consistent drivers at the front aside from Verstappen. Eight races, eight top five finishes – about as much as Mercedes could have asked from their new driver. And in Canada, he kept his streak alive into a ninth race. Although this time, after spinning off in qualifying with dry tires on a wet track, he had to settle for being behind Hamilton in the race, off the podium.

After a first retirement of the season at home in Silverstone, involved in the horrific start line accident involving Zhou Guanyu, his weekend at the Red Bull Ring was scrappy. Russell spun off and crashed in Q3 (as did Hamilton), but still secured fourth place on the grid. In the grand prix he earned a penalty from opening lap contact with Perez but still managed to get home in fourth place.

He was equally aggressive with Perez at Paul Ricard. His divebomb attempt into the chicane on the Red Bull was a little ridiculous, but mugging Perez as the race restarted after a late Virtual Safety Car to snatch a podium was superbly opportunistic.

Mercedes had now bridged most of the gap to the two teams ahead and Russell demonstrated this perfectly with an excellent lap in Hungary to stun Red Bull and Ferrari by taking his first career pole position – Mercedes’ first of the season. He led the early laps of the race and fought hard to keep the quicker Ferraris behind him but eventually succumbed. Despite taking a podium in third, he again followed Hamilton home.

A brave call to pit under a late safety car at Zandvoort put him at an advantage over Hamilton once the race started. He duly caught and passed his team mate, but there was no chance he was going to catch Verstappen at home. Another third place finish in Monza took his tally of podiums for the season to seven and he was also only seven points behind Perez in fourth place in the championship.

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Singapore was easily Russell’s weakest weekend. He kissed the barriers multiple times in practice, then was eliminated in Q2 while complaining of braking problems. After starting from the pit lane on a wet track, he ran off the circuit in the early laps, then took a gamble on slicks at least 20 minutes too early, dropping him a minute off the rest of the field. After catching up with a safety car, he carelessly drove into Mick Schumacher while overtaking the Haas into turn one, was lucky to avoid a penalty, but received a karmic puncture instead.

George Russell, Mercedes, Interlagos, 2022
His first win in Brazil was well-earned

In the late stage of the season, Russell was now regularly being bested by Hamilton. He very clumsily barged into Carlos Sainz Jnr in the first corner at the Circuit of the Americas and finished fifth while Hamilton fought for the win. He pipped Hamilton by five-thousandths of a second qualifying in Mexico, but lost places to Hamilton and Perez at the start, eventually finishing fourth behind the pair of them.

But in Brazil, his moment of moments arrived. Yes, he likely benefited from his own spin in qualifying which brought out the red flag that prevented anyone else from improving in the wet conditions, but chasing down and passing Verstappen in the sprint race to secure pole position was no mean feat. With the pressure of a possible first race win, Russell kept his cool throughout the race, even breaking clear of Hamilton following a late race restart to lead his team mate home for his maiden grand prix win and finally give Mercedes their first win of the season . Mercedes were not quick enough to challenge for the win in Abu Dhabi, but that mattered little as the team’s focus was long since on 2023.

Russell’s first season at a race-winning team left a strong impression. He’d been consistent, reliable and had headed Hamilton home far more often than many would have predicted before the season started. Hamilton may have begun to reassert himself over the latter part of the year, but Russell will take pride in having been the only one of the two to take a checked flag first this season.

With Mercedes unlikely to make the same mistakes with their car design two seasons in a row, no one driver will likely be looking forward to getting back on the grid next season as much as George Russell.

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