Damon Hill ranked George Russell’s outing with Mercedes as his top memory of the 2020 Formula 1 season, in what he described as a “star is born” moment.
Russell was drafted in at Mercedes after Lewis Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Sakhir Grand Prix.
The young Briton, who has spent his short Formula 1 career at the back of the grid with Williams, was suddenly gifted an opportunity to drive F1’s dominant car and the pressure on him to perform was immense.
Nobody quite expected Russell to achieve what he did though. First he qualified just 0.026s shy of polesitter and team-mate Valtteri Bottas, but then he went on to pass Bottas at the start of the race to lead for the majority of the 87 lap race, only for a tyre mishap to put him at the back of the back.
He would go on to fight back, passing Bottas once again, and was in contention for the race win until a puncture put him to the back for a second time. Russell eventually finished ninth in a heartbreaking race, but showed what he was capable of.
1996 F1 champion Hill called it his moment of the season: “It has to be the George Russell race. I’m very sorry for Lewis and for Valtteri, but basically this was a star is born moment,” he told the ‘In The Pink‘ podcast.
“A guy gets a shot at his big moment and was doing amazingly well. Sadly it all went really pear-shaped, but he still had a really great race and showed what he could do. That was a brilliant moment.
“I’m always asked this about Formula 1; if they all had the same equipment, who would win the race? Sadly the fact about our sport is they can’t all have the same equipment because that’s part of the DNA of the sport.
“But someone got a stab at showing what they could do – the reason he got into that car is because he already shown what he could do with two years at Williams – it was a very exciting moment.”
Perez at Red Bull
Hill also spoke on the subject of Sergio Perez’s move to Red Bull, with the belief that the Mexican driver is deserving of a top seat and might finally be the answer to Red Bull’s second seat woes where traditionally the second driver has underperformed.
“I would have liked to have seen him at Ferrari,” Hill said of Perez. “He’s such a solid deliverer for a team. He seems to be apolitical. I was so impressed by him when we had the Mexican Grand Prix – he was worked to death as the local driver, but he kept a smile on his face and gave everyone whatever they wanted.
“You need someone who’s going to score 100. There’s a little bit of uncertainty with Alex [Albon]. For whatever reason it’s very difficult in that team for a team-mate.
“Sergio being more mature, more experienced, he’ll be able to see what’s going on. It’s very difficult for a young person who is beholden to Red Bull…Sergio’s life does not depend on Red Bull, so he’ll be able to act as a strong player in that team and they’ll have to listen to what he says because he’s got a lot of experience…more than Max.”