Russell continued his rise and rise in F1 with his best season to date in his third full term. 

The Briton’s obvious highlight of 2021 was qualifying second on the grid in Belgium with a stunning lap in wet conditions to set up what would turn out to be his maiden F1 podium. 

Russell once again excelled in qualifying to validate his ‘Mr Saturday’ nickname. Among a series of incredible laps included his effort in front of a packed home crowd at Silverstone, advancing to Q3 on medium tyres in Austria, and taking third on the grid with a brave lap in tricky changing conditions around Sochi.

Russell’s lap at Spa naturally made the biggest splash. Granted, his Williams was specifically tuned for wet-weather running, but he still had to deliver the lap. And deliver he did to go faster than both Mercedes drivers and take a sensational second, with a lap only slower than Verstappen. 

It would prove key to securing a special first-ever F1 podium when the race was declared a wash-out and failed to get going properly.

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Williams made a clear step forward with its FW43B car, though Russell was still able to put it places on the grid it had no right to be. Q2 appearances became the norm as Russell regularly extracted the maximum from Williams’ peaky car, reaching Q3 four times in 22 races. 

After the heartbreak of missed points-scoring opportunities in 2020, Russell finally got off the mark for Williams in 2021, though he had to be patient. That patience was rewarded with four points finishes across five rounds during Russell’s peak form in the summer. 

A 16-point haul from Russell alone helped ensure Williams lifted itself off the very bottom of the F1 standings and vault above Haas and Alfa Romeo into P8. 

It was these performances, coupled with Bottas’ struggles, that Mercedes could simply no longer ignore.

Russell’s season was not without its low points, though such moments were rare. 

Examples were seen at Imola where he rather clumsily collided with Bottas’ Mercedes and at Zandvoort, where he spun into the barriers when pushing the limits in qualifying. However, he put the latter down to experimenting with a more aggressive approach which he later abandoned. 

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Russell’s performances somewhat tailed off in the closing stages of the year - notably after his Mercedes move was confirmed - as he finally lost his remarkable unbeaten F1 qualifying record. But that doesn’t detract from what was a remarkable season overall. 

Russell’s reward for his excellent 2021 season? A dream drive at Mercedes alongside his boyhood idol Hamilton. 

2022 will be a true test for Russell and there will be no hiding place in what should be a front-running car. 

I have long believed that Russell is the real deal and therefore cannot wait to see how he stacks up against Hamilton and compares to F1's world-class drivers. 

Come back tomorrow to find out who sits at #7 in our list.