What’s behind George Russell’s renewed confidence?

If you need a comment that sums up just how significant the Mercedes gains have been in recent weeks, George Russell can provide it pretty succinctly.

“On the simulator it’s really performing well. I didn’t believe it at the start ahead of Montreal because the gains felt too big, and then in Montreal we were flying!”

You might know Russell as one of the more eloquent and detailed drivers when giving answers, and that was far from his only take on the subject, but ahead of a Spanish Grand Prix – where he would rocket into the lead from fourth on the grid – it was a clear statement of his optimism.


The end result in Barcelona wasn’t hugely different to a year ago, with Lewis Hamilton third and Russell fourth, as opposed to second and third in 2023. The gap to race-winner Max Verstappen this time around was 17.7 seconds compared to 24s a year ago, but it’s about more than those margins or finishing positions.

Aside from Hamilton saying he’d have been much closer to the top two with a better start, it’s founded in the context of the races that have gone before, and what the drivers were feeling. The car has become much more confidence-inspiring to drive, Mercedes has gone from being over half a minute adrift in Imola – beaten by both McLarens and Ferraris too, and some 13s behind the slowest of those – to being much more in the fight at the last three rounds.

“It doesn’t change my mentality, but it definitely feels like something has clicked,” Russell says of the atmosphere within the team. “We’ve known our mistakes, and we keep saying this but we know where we’ve gone wrong – we’ve gone too far this way or too far that way.

“As I’ve often said, from the outside people expect change overnight. The fact is, if you know an error you’ve made with the design, you’ve got to first work out what it is; what the direction’s going to be; design the pieces; put it in the wind tunnel; then put it on the simulator – is it actually working as you expect? – manufacture the pieces…

“Suddenly, this is like a 10-week process to then bring it to the car. Oh, Pirelli have also changed the tires at the same time and things have changed, maybe a small tweak with the regulation as well, and it’s difficult overnight to just make these changes.

“We’ve maybe been too big and bold with our decisions over these last two years, and we’ve almost just wound it in slightly with this last set of upgrades and it feels like something’s clicked.

“On the simulator, it’s really performing well. I didn’t believe it at the start ahead of Montreal because the gains felt too big, and then in Montreal we were flying! So that’s why we’re all sat here in anticipation of what these next couple of weeks are going to bring.”

That anticipation was not dampened by a race weekend in Barcelona, where Mercedes outqualified and outraced Ferrari – a team that it had failed to finish ahead of in any grand prix this year prior to Canada – and even then both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz struggled in qualifying before they retired from the race to limit the comparison.

The specifics of what has been working so well from a technical point of view remain a more closely-guarded secret – perhaps driven by a bit of humility and caution after such high-profile difficulties in getting a ground effect car to work – but there has been a personnel restructuring over the past year that Russell believes has played a part, with James Allison back in the technical director role.

Progress takes a while to turn into results in F1, but at Mercedes, Russell is seeing important strides from the car, the team – and himself. Sam Bloxham/Motorsport Images

“It’s always a team effort but of course you need a strong leader within your organization, ” he says. “I honestly believe Toto [Wolff] and James are a killer pairing. Toto with how he leads an organization and people, and then James from a technical standpoint and his understanding of things.

“I think with James at the helm, steering the direction to allow the hundreds of people in the design office and aero department and manufacturing to do what they do best, it feels like something is clicking. It’s taken time, but between James and Toto, I really believe in it.”

Russell has confidence in the people leading the team, and now he has the same in the car, too – “definitely, W15 is the most confidence I’ve had from the three Mercedes cars I’ve driven by a long, long way” – but the final piece of that puzzle is with himself.

The 26-year-old is in his sixth season in Formula 1 but has seen a spell with low expectations at Williams be followed by a very different scenario alongside Hamilton at a previously-dominant but now underachieving Mercedes.

Hamilton’s impending departure has brought significant focus on to who will be partnering Russell in 2025, and a potential team leader role if it’s teenager Andrea Kimi Antonelli. But just as Mercedes has become more in tune with the demands of the current regulations, so too has Russell with getting the most out of his own potential.

“There’s often a lot of noise externally, but from within, my job when I put my helmet on and walk into the garage, I try to drive as fast as possible,” he says. “That’s always been the case. It doesn’t matter if I’ve got a seven-time world champion alongside me or if I’ve got young rookie next to me or nobody next to me, it’s how you deal with that external noise.

“I’ve worked a lot over the last couple of years on my psychology and on dealing with certain events and races. If I’m struggling a bit in practice, what’s my mindset in qualifying? If I’m having great practices, what’s my mindset in qualifying? That’s been a real big help for me.

“And the same when I joined Mercedes, I’m going up against the greatest driver of all time who’s achieved so much with this team – what’s my mindset? Do I need to think about that? Do I not consider it? How much should I be looking into his data and trying to pick out? I think we’re all different, and this year I’ve found a real sweet spot that is working for me.”

Much like the amount of time it has taken Mercedes to feel truly confident in its technical direction, Russell’s own comfort has not come overnight.

“I’ve worked with a psychologist now for four years now, to be honest,” he says. “As I said, everybody’s different, but I find it really beneficial. They’re just very small things, and sometimes when you get caught up in the midst of a busy race weekend, you sometimes [don’t] have a moment to think and it’s only retrospectively you can assess a weekend and say well actually ‘I wish I did something like this slightly different or that slightly different’.

“So talking to a professional and just letting my feelings out and how I feel about a scenario, just finding a few little strategies to deal with it. Because this sport swings so quickly. One minute you’re a hero, the next you’re zero, and it can swing as quickly as from FP3 to qualifying or from race to race.

“I’ve been in a position where I’ve been on a roll for a couple of races and then suddenly the next race, I’m off the pace. And it’s like, ‘****, how am I dealing with this? What’s going on?’ And most of the time it’s up in your head.”

In fairness to both Russell and Hamilton, perhaps the performance of the car has also clouded that self-assessment in recent seasons. Now, Mercedes appears set on a path that will offer up opportunities for wins in the remaining races and perhaps even a championship challenge next year, too. And Russell’s starting to believe it.

Story originally appeared on Racer