LET’S GET IT STRAIGHT: George Russell might be the second driver behind Lewis Hamilton in Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team, but he’s not here to play second fiddle: “I need to win championships; that is what I’m putting my heart and soul into.”
Completely focused on the task ahead of him—that is to drive fast and to win races—it might seem like a relatively simple task from an outsider’s perspective, but in order to win just one race on the Formula 1 calendar (there’s 23 of them), it takes a considerable amount of physicality, stamina and mental pressure that most 25-year olds are never likely exposed to.
“You can’t stick to a set process because to optimise each and every weekend, you need to focus on different things,” Russell says as he discusses his gruelling heat training before racing in humid locations, like Qatar.
Russell finished an impressive 4th place at the Qatar Grand Prix over the weekend, cementing a solid result amid a season that’s been defined by inches; by could have beens and should have beens. But the challenges only edge Russell on, to future greatness.
“I can think of only a few really low moments through my whole racing career. And at the time it’s excruciating and there’s a lot of pain you have to go through and it’s a horrible feeling,” explains Russell.
“But when I reflect on those moments, they are the moments that have made me a stronger person, a stronger driver and a more rounded human being. You’re never going to go through life without failure; I think failures are what define people.”
Esquire: George! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us ahead of your busy race schedule in Qatar! How’s the preparation been going into the weekend in Qatar and how are you feeling overall?
George Russell: It’s been good. Singapore and Japan were two heavy race weekends because of the travel; 14 hours to Singapore, seven hours on to Japan. It was a 30-hour door-to-door trip back home from Japan, time zone shifts. And the physicality of the race with the humidity and the heat in both Japan and Singapore, Singapore more so. I then spent two days at the factory on the simulator. To be honest, a lot of it was looking ahead to next year.
We spent time preparing for this weekend in Qatar. But we’re now 17 races into this season. We know where this car needs to be set up. We know how to optimise this package, so we’re very much looking towards next year because we want to hit the ground running and we want to make sure we’ve got a car that can compete for better results than we’ve seen this season.
But all in all, feeling good. It’s hot and humid here but excited for the weekend!
Esquire: We’re almost coming to the end of the 2023 Formula 1 season, with five races left after Qatar. Reflecting on the year thus far, it’s been a season of ups and downs. But I read somewhere that you mentioned in terms of performance, you feel it’s been your best season ever. Have you had a chance to reflect on your performances this year and your growth as a driver athlete?
GR: It’s been a really unique one for me personally because I feel like the performances have been very strong, yet the results have been pretty poor to be honest. And we’ve had a very inconsistent and scrappy season which is something that we really did not have last year. And I guess that was also a bit of a lesson that you have to just keep on getting those results to accumulate the points and you’ll find yourself in a stronger position for the championship.
So that’s purely on a personal note. Globally, with myself and the team, we of course have greater aspirations. We’re lying P2 in the Constructors Championship. That’s our goal to the end of the season to secure that position. But realistically, we know that on the whole, it’s been a very competitive season between the four teams of McLaren, Aston Martin, Ferrari and ourselves, and we need to close that gap on Red Bull and that’s where all of our focus, energy and effort is going into right now.
Esquire: I’d love to gain a little bit of an insight into your overarching strategy from a personal level as a professional athlete and how your process helps you get the best out of each race and performance?
GR: That’s a great question. It’s very dependent on the race, the time of the year and the physicality of the upcoming event. And that dictates our preparation. So at the start of a year, there’ll be a lot of preparation in the simulator with the team, trying to understand what set of items we can do with the car to maximise the performance. There will also be a lot of correlation from the previous test or the previous race as the season goes on.
The preparation changes slightly on a personal level because we do more overseas races, going from Qatar to Japan, Singapore, Austin, Mexico. So, when it comes to the body clock, I’m shifting my body clock one hour a day, depending on where we’re going in the world. Then when it comes to the hot races, such as Singapore, Qatar this weekend, I do a lot of heat training. So, all of my gym sessions and my training exercises, I wear three layers of clothing, top and bottom. So, I’ll have leggings, tracksuit bottoms, thermal top, jumper, rain jacket and cap, because when we’re in the cockpit, it’s anywhere from 40 to 60 degrees Celsius and then the air that is coming in is often hotter than ambient temperature. So, you’ve got the heat coming up from the track, then with the airflow that’s basically being blown into your face with the hot fumes from the car ahead. So heat training is a huge, huge factor.
It’s very variable and I think that’s the exciting thing about Formula 1 – you can’t stick to a set process because to optimise each and every weekend, you need to focus on different things.
Esquire: So training is obviously incredibly important, keeping fit. But how about your recovery? What does that look like at the moment?
GR: This is a busy time of the season and I’ve got to be honest, I’m putting a lot of focus with the team into next year and that is probably coming at the expense of slightly not fully recovering; my battery right now is definitely not at a hundred percent, but it’s something I’m willing to do because I don’t want to get to January and think I’ve missed any single opportunity to maximise next season.
So it’s a bit of a different way of looking at things. Whereas last year, I was in a strong position in the drivers championship. There was a lot more focus at that point in really trying to maximise every single race weekend. Whereas now, you need to play the long game a little bit more, but for me personally, just taking time with friends, with family. I’ve also got a newfound love for water and the ocean. I grew up in the countryside and jumping in the sea was not a thing. Whereas now, I’d always try to wake up early to jump into the sea. I also like taking ice baths which I feel is immense for recovery, not just physically but mentally, too. I’m buying one now to put in my flat so I can do it every single day.
Esquire: Surely when you’re back in Australia next year, you’ll be visiting all of our great beaches along the coast?
GR: There’s few sharks there in Australia though, so I might have to change my views on that [laughs].
Esquire: George, there’ve been some heartbreaking moments this season, most recently in Singapore. Do you welcome the lows as much as the highs of this sport? And if so, how do you best cope with the mental and physical pressures that are attached with Formula 1?
GR: I can think of only a few really low moments through my whole racing career. And at the time it’s excruciating and there’s a lot of pain you have to go through and it’s a horrible feeling – you feel like you let yourself down, and the team down. But when I reflect on those moments, whether it’s two weeks after or two years after whatever it may be, they are the moments that have made me a stronger person, a stronger driver and a more rounded human being. And you’re never going to go through life without failure; you’re never going to go through life without mistakes.
And… if you’re not pushing yourself—I could comfortably do every single lap in a Formula 1 season without making one single mistake—you wouldn’t be on the top of your game and at the highest pace possible. I’m not afraid of failure and I think failures are what define people.
So I won’t say I necessarily welcome it [the lows], but if I could turn the clock back, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Esquire: Is there a race track you’re particularly fond of, George?
GR: Wherever the car’s quick is where I love [laughs]. I’ll take Silverstone out of the equation because that’s my favourite track for so many reasons – being British, I’m obviously biased. But I do love going to Austin. That’s a great circuit, great atmosphere and a really cool city. I also love the street circuits of Singapore and Monaco – they’re always an exhilarating drive. And actually Qatar; we’ve only been here once but it truly is one of the really great circuits. I’m naming half of the calendar here [laughs] but they’ve all got their uniqueness and I think that’s what is so great about this sport. You know, we often talk about diversity in a different regard, but having that diversity in the countries we visit, the cultures we go to, the race circuits we race on, the interaction with the fans, it gives a really nice whole rounded experience and brings excitement to each individual event.
Esquire: Let’s chat watches, George. You’ve been an ambassador of IWC Schaffhausen for some time. Are you now officially a ‘watch guy’?
GR: IWC was where I found my love for watches. To be honest, I wore my first IWC when I was 17 and I’ve worn it every single year since, even when I was at Williams (and they had a different watch brand sponsor). Now, my whole family has an IWC. My girlfriend, my sister, my father, my brother, my brother in law, my trainer – pretty much everyone in the family has got an IWC watch. And I think when you’re ingrained into a certain brand, everyone around you gets into it.
I went to Schaffhausen last year for the first time and I’m seeing the craftsmanship that goes into these little pieces; it gives you a huge amount of respect for the piece. And I think it’s something you take for granted. If you haven’t seen the precision, the time, the effort that goes into it, you merely see it as a watch. Whereas now, I see an IWC timepiece as so much more.
Esquire: I can think of a few similarities between IWC and the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 team, two being design and engineering. But I’d love to know, from your point of view, what similarities you can draw between working with the two brands?
GR: I think the two brands have so many synergies – when you walk into the headquarters at IWC, from the manufacturing side of things, it feels like a Formula 1 team. Everything’s clean, the level of detail in some regards is even more refined than it is in Formula 1 because obviously the pieces are so much smaller. The elegance of the brand, you know, Mercedes and IWC, they’re both incredibly classy and elegant but also achievable. And I think that’s why IWC offers such a great range.
Esquire: You have worn some pretty epic IWC timepieces over the years. I’d love to know which piece in your collection gets the most wrist time?
GR: Probably my IWC Portugieser Annual Calendar, as that was my first sort of really classy piece. I always had my Pilots watches. I have my IWC Pilot’s Watch Double Chronograph TOP GUN Ceratanium, which I’ve got on right now and I really love. It’s my everyday watch which you can wear with anything. But my Portugieser Annual Calendar is just a really classy watch that I will wear whenever I’ve got a shirt on.
Esquire: George, there’s a lot of expectation placed on athletes these days and sometimes people forget that you are only human. How do you best deal with the outside noise? Is there something you do that helps you to unwind and decompress from Formula 1?
GR: I wouldn’t say I have a hobby or interest which I would categorise as a “love”, but I have a number of things that I’m trying to do more often these days which I really enjoy, like playing paddle – a lot of drivers are now into paddle and some of us play together.
I like to be active with my time off. I don’t like to sit on the beach doing nothing. I want to be active, so I recently got into eFoil boarding. I think it keeps the senses alive as well as the fact that you’re in the sun, you’re in the sea and you’re feeling the waves. I’m also getting into freediving. I’m not going to those extremes but I want to get to a level whereby if I’m ever in the sea or on a small boat anywhere, I can jump into the water, swim to 10, 15 metres below and just sort of sit there and listen. It’s such a tranquil activity; it’s almost like meditation. You go there and you’re thinking about nothing else except focusing on your breathing. It’s probably the one activity I’ve ever done where I could be there for three or four hours and I haven’t thought about anything else but what’s in front of me. And I think for the life that we live, that having something like this is really important.
Esquire: Athletes careers, they’re not forever and I can imagine it would be hard to sustain the life of a Formula 1 driver. While you’re only at the start of your bright career ahead, how do you want to make your mark on Formula 1? Is there a legacy you’d like to establish?
GR: The greater the performance, the greater the legacy you can leave. At the moment, I haven’t accomplished anything close to what I’d like to accomplish in Formula 1. So thinking about a legacy I’d want to leave behind is getting way ahead of myself. I need to win more races. I need to win championships. That is what I’m putting my heart and soul into. And once I’ve achieved that, and hopefully more than once, I can think of life after Formula 1.
But I want to be remembered as a good person. Having met a few greats within other sports, all of those sportspeople are great people and you’re never going to get anywhere in life if you’re not. So that’s a real reminder to me that, you know, first and foremost, it doesn’t matter how much talent, speed, whatever you’ve got, you’ve got to be a good person.