George Russell is fast but the young Briton will need to be quicker than ever as he steps up alongside compatriot Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes this season, according to 1996 F1 world champion Damon Hill.
Russell, 24, has replaced Alfa Romeo bound Valtteri Bottas as teammate to seven times F1 world champion Hamilton, 37, with the pair in equal machinery.
Asked what advice he would give to the youngster, Hill told reporters: “Just make sure you’re fast!
“You’re going to have to be possibly faster than you’ve ever driven before,” added the 61-year-old, an F1 expert for Sky Sports television, ahead of this weekend’s opening race in Bahrain. “It is a big step.”
Russell nearly won in Bahrain – the Sakhir Grand Prix – in December 2020 when he stood in after Hamilton was sidelined by COVID-19. He led but his efforts were wrecked by a team pitstop bungle and then a puncture.
Hamilton is the most successful Formula 1 driver of all time, holding most of the major records including 103 wins and pole positions.
Hill said Russell, after three seasons at Williams and much longer as a contracted Mercedes driver, would need to make a strong start: ‘It’s what happens if you find it harder to match your teammate over a long period of time and you start getting questions.
You don’t want to be getting questions halfway through the season
“Was it harder than you thought? Is Lewis quicker than you thought? Do you think you can go any faster? Those are the things. I am sure he will be keen to avoid that,” explained Hill.
Mercedes looked off the pace in Bahrain testing, their car bouncing on the straights and losing downforce and precious time.
Both Russell and Hamilton have pointed to Red Bull and Ferrari as the form teams and warned fans not to expect a winning start.
Hill doubted Hamilton would be feeling any more stress than in last season’s ultimately losing battle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, a duel that ended in huge controversy on the last lap of the final race and the Dutch driver crowned as champion.
“I’m just wondering if this not getting it (last year) in a way has kind of relieved him of that pressure,” he said of Hamilton. “He has got seven world titles and more race victories and pole positions than anybody else.
“If he gets the eight, fantastic. That would just be beyond, you don’t need any further proof. If he doesn’t get the eight, he’s had a fantastic career to look back on. By any standards it’s remarkable,” added Hill. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)