F3 ace joins Young Driver Pro­gramme

Motor Sport News - - Racing News - By Rob Lad­brook Pho­tos: Mercedes AMG, LAT

Ge­orge Rus­sell in­sists that he’s not tak­ing a For­mula 1 out­ing with Mercedes as granted this year, de­spite be­ing signed to the Sil­ver Ar­rows’ suc­cess­ful Ju­nior Driver Pro­gramme.

The 18-year-old Bri­ton was un­veiled as the new­est Mercedes ju­nior last week, and will dove­tail his F1 du­ties with a full cam­paign in the GP3 Se­ries with ti­tle-win­ning team ART Grand Prix.

Rus­sell, who fin­ished third in last year’s FIA For­mula 3 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship and won the pres­ti­gious Mclaren Au­tosport BRDC Award in 2014, joins Pas­cal Wehrlein and Este­ban Ocon in the driver train­ing scheme.

With both Wehrlein and Ocon step­ping up to full-time F1 seats this year, Rus­sell is the only young driver on Mercedes’ ros­ter that fits the cri­te­ria for the of­fi­cial young driver tests this year. Rules man­date that teams run driv­ers who have com­peted in two or less grands prix.

De­spite him be­ing Mercedes’ lead­ing can­di­date to test, Rus­sell played down talk that a run in the car was all but guar­an­teed.

“It’s true that I’m the only driver in the scheme who isn’t in F1, but any­thing could hap­pen,” said Rus­sell, from Wis­bech.

“I’m in the frame, def­i­nitely, but that doesn’t mean that I’ve made it. I still have to do the job. I’m pre­par­ing my­self phys­i­cally to be ready if I get cho­sen to go in the car, but it’s not high on my agenda. My full fo­cus is on GP3 and go­ing out to win the cham­pi­onship this year.

“I’ve started do­ing some work in the sim­u­la­tor and it’s al­ready clear that I’m work­ing with peo­ple who are the best in the busi­ness, who I know will help me de­velop as a driver and as a per­son. This op­por­tu­nity gives me huge mo­ti­va­tion.”

Rus­sell adds that suc­cess in GP3 this year is vi­tal if he is to con­tinue his chase for an F1 break­through. The se­ries has proven a suc­cess­ful feed­ing ground in re­cent years, with Ocon and new Mercedes driver Valt­teri Bot­tas both re­cent grad­u­ates from the class.

“I think Mercedes are the best as far as look­ing af­ter their young driv­ers who per­form,” Rus­sell said. “Just look at Este­ban and Pas­cal, who have both been given amaz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, but they still had to per­form.

“Este­ban won GP3 and Pas­cal won the DTM, so for me it all de­pends on this year re­ally. If I do a good job I know Mercedes will take care of me. Ob­vi­ously F1 is the tar­get, but the short-term tar­get is win­ning the GP3 Se­ries. If I do that there’s no rea­son why I couldn’t jump straight from GP3 to F1.”

Mercedes’ Toto Wolff added: “Ge­orge has shown im­pres­sive form in the ju­nior cat­e­gories and we’ve kept a close eye on him. It’s still early days in his ca­reer but we see great po­ten­tial in him. GP3 will pro­vide a good test of his cre­den­tials for the fu­ture.”

seat Ge­orge Rus­sell (above) joins Mercedes F1 team and gets GP3

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