Set to make his Formula 1 debut with Mercedes, George Russell reveals that he came quite close to signing with BMW’s DTM program, a move that would have significantly altered the trajectory of his motorsports career.
Russell, who at the time had just finished his first season racing in Formula 3, was offered a chance to test a BMW DTM racecar in the winter. The test went so well that the Bavarian car manufacturer tabled a deal that, according to Russell, represented a significant financial commitment, with the British driver ultimately turning down the deal to focus on his Formula 1 dream.
“I had an offer from BMW to race in DTM,” Russell explained on the Motor Sport podacast.
“I did a test with BMW in December in Jerez. They sent one of their factory drivers from DTM as the reference driver. And we ended up being faster than the reference.”
Russell proceeded to explain how an engineer who had shifted from BMW to Mercedes played a pivitol role in helping the British ace ulitmately sign with Mercedes, despite the Stuggart firm’s reluctance to offer him anything concrete in the way of guarantees.
“There was an engineer who had shifted from BMW to Mercedes, and I think, potentially, he was quite influential saying ‘this guy was very fast and you need to sign him before BMW do,” Russell elaborated.
“So I had the contract on the table from BMW almost ready to sign it and that’s when I got the phone call from Gwen Lagrue, I was sat in the bath actually. He was saying ‘I want to have a conversation about joining Mercedes. And that’s where it all started really.”
Russell proceeded to detail how Mercedes were adamant that if he signed with BMW they’d withdraw their offer.
“It was absolutely clear from Mercedes-Benz, if you signed with BMW, there won’t be an option with Mercedes in the future,” Russell explained.
“So the deal on the table from Mercedes was racing Formula 3 for one more year with a Mercedes-backed team, which was Hitech, and come and do all of the simulator work for Mercedes F1, we’ll see how you get on, see how you’re performing on track, how you’re performing off track, and we’ll make a decision in October. There’s a chance we might not take you but a chance we will take you. But if you sign the BMW contract, we’re out.
“I was a 16-year-old at the time. 16/17 years old with a lot of money on the table. And it was all quite shocking. It all came so sudden. I’ve not really had any communications with F1 teams and conversations with Toto [Wolff] are positive, but not too sure if it’s going to lead to something but this is on the table now and a decision needed to be taken. Suddenly Mercedes pick up the phone but they weren’t offering anything concrete it was ‘you’ve got to take a chance.’
“They might turn around and say I’m sorry. But then the BMW door is closed as well. But the big difference is this is Mercedes and that was Formula 1 and BMW was DTM. I was a 17 year old and you had to take that risk. I guess if it didn’t work out I’d potentially be regretting it, but it worked out.”
While Russell performed admirably during his one-off appearance with Mercedes at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, the 2022 campaign will mark his first full season with the Brackley-based team. The Englishman claimed his first podium in the sport during the rain-affected Belgian Grand Prix this past year and has been tipped as a future world champion based on his performances with the Williams Formula 1 team.