George Russell mistakes exposed as Mercedes face major concern

The Briton admitted his errors cost Mercedes a potential victory in Canada, and it's not the first time he has made mistakes under pressure

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George Russell may have started the Formula 1 2024 Canadian Grand Prix on pole position, yet there was a certain air of inevitability that the Mercedes star wouldn’t finish on the top step of the podium after a rain-soaked afternoon in Montreal. Even Toto Wolff knew it.

The 26-year-old is set to lead the Silver Arrows next season when Lewis Hamilton leaves for Ferrari, with 17-year-old Andrea Kimi Antonelli set to partner him as his team-mate. But the Canadian GP underlined his weaknesses as much as his strengths – and offered another frustrating example of the self-inflicted damage Russell is doing to his career after coming home in third, when first was an achievable result.

In each of the last two races in Canada, Russell has suffered directly as a result of his own mistakes. The Kings Lynn-born racer is always honest enough to put his hands up and take responsibility, which is more than can be said for some drivers on the grid. But the problem with owning up to mistakes is it becomes somewhat easier to count how many there are – and Toto Wolff might be keeping a sidenote.

In 2023, he was forced to retire from the race after clobbering the wall at Turn 9 on Lap 13, which contributed to his eventual DNF. At the time, he was running in P4 and, with the possibility of a podium finish in his sights, Russell might have been guilty of taking the corner too aggressively and riding the kerb, which sent him hurtling towards the barrier. Too much zeal and something to learn from.

Race winner Max Verstappen Second placed Lando Norris of McLaren and Third placed George Russell of Mercedes celebrate on the podium after the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
George Russell (right) finished third on the podium after the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Canada: Different year, same issues

A year later in 2024, it seemed as if it would be different. Russell qualified on pole ahead of Max Verstappen thanks to an incredibly-rare dead heat in qualifying and kept it neat and tidy out front in the wet conditions. Verstappen would eventually get the better of him when the track dried out, but it felt almost inevitable with the sheer pace of the RB20.

On Lap 50, Russell made his first error. After pulling off an impressive manoeuvre to pass Lando Norris for second place, he ran wide at the Turn 8 chicane and allowed Norris to get back past him. Later on, he was behind Oscar Piastri and, in a desperate move to make amends, he audaciously tried to take the outside line going into the chicane.

Piastri was having none of it on the racing line, Russell ran out of room and went off into the run-off area and conceded P3 to the Australian, before Lewis Hamilton also got past. In the space of one corner, he had lost two positions and a podium place to Hamilton.

Russell made amends by gaining revenge on Piastri and then Hamilton on the penultimate laps to claim third. But it easily could have been so much more had he kept a cool head, bided his time and waited for the right moment. Even Russell couldn’t hide away from the mistakes he made, and admitted Mercedes probably should have been on top of the podium.

“We had the pace. Max was very strong at that point of the race. But then when we put the mediums on at the end, we were really, really fast,” Russell said. “I think that mistake with Oscar when I tried overtaking him and I lost the position to Lewis cost us at least P2 and maybe going to fight with Max later in the race.”

A worrying pattern

With Russell, a concerning pattern has started to take shape. When he is either on the cusp of a podium finish or under pressure, the Mercedes star tends to get flustered and commit errors that he doesn’t normally make.

At the 2023 Singapore GP, he was fighting for the race win but crashed into the wall on the final lap, losing 15 points in the process. Then in Las Vegas, Russell was at fault for a collision with Verstappen at Turn 11 that landed him a five-second penalty from the stewards. He hadn’t looked in his mirrors and turned in on the Red Bull driver, with both cars losing vital pieces of bodywork. As a consequence, he was demoted to P8 from fourth after the penalty was applied.

George Russell of Mercedes leads Max Verstappen at the start of the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool
George Russell of Mercedes leads Max Verstappen at the start of the 2024 Canadian Grand Prix | Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

It is surprising, given his driving style offers a throwback to the likes of Jenson Button, with calm movements behind the steering wheel and an elegant handling of the car. But his behaviour changes when he is in direct combat with another car, leading to desperate and ill-timed moves. This is his sixth season in F1; it’s not like Russell is a rookie at Williams anymore. And while it’s fair to say every driver gets entangled in racing incidents when pulling off overtakes, Russell seems to come off worse.

There are some statistics weighted in his favour that underline his promise: in 2024, he has collected more points, podiums and poles than Hamilton, and edges their head-to-head battle 7-1. But if Russell is to lead the team into a new era and mount a serious challenge for the drivers’ championship – which could realistically be as early as 2026 – Mercedes need him to eradicate these unnecessary blunders in the crucial moments.

Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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