Consistent superb performances for Williams over the past three seasons have led Russell to being dubbed F1’s ‘Mr Saturday’ and his achievements in machinery that has largely belonged at the back of the grid have both underlined his abilities and played a key role in his promotion to Mercedes for 2022. 

Russell is the first and only Williams driver to reach Q3 - the final segment of qualifying - since 2018. Across 22 grands prix last season, the 23-year-old Briton racked up a total of four Q3 appearances and 15 Q2 outings. 

Remarkably, it took 56 races for his extraordinary unbeaten record against Williams teammates Robert Kubica and Nicolas Latifi to be broken, with the latter only able to outpace Russell in a regular qualifying session on two occasions during their two-season spell together at Grove. 

We sat down with the new Mercedes driver in an exclusive interview at the end of 2021 to lift the lid on the secrets to being successful over one lap, and what it is that he loves so much about qualifying day. 

“It’s the high-pressure stakes of qualifying; you go out there, you’ve got one lap to do the business, the pressure is on and the world’s watching,” Russell tells 

“It just excites me and I thrive on that pressure to go out there and deliver. I think for a lot of drivers, it’s the most exciting part of the weekend. It’s when your car is at its fastest and when everything is on the line. 

“It’s like a sprint, [with] the race being more of a marathon, managing it to the end. You can’t sprint every lap of a race because you’d be burned out, you’d tire the engine and the brakes. 

“But qualifying you are not holding anything back, you are unleashing everything and that’s what I enjoy.” 

This season, Russell will get to pit himself against statistically the greatest qualifier of all time when he goes up against new teammate and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who holds the record for most pole positions in F1 with 103.

While having raw, inherent speed is a pivotal element in becoming a master over one lap, building up a wide-ranging toolbox of skills is equally important, as Russell explains. 

“I think as a driver your natural speed probably doesn’t improve much from the age of 16, 17 to the rest of your career,” he says. 

“You become faster because you learn how to work with the team better, how to get more out of your car, from the technical aspects, how do I get my tyres working in a better window to make them go faster on track? 

“These are all things you obviously learn with experience and I think I’ve progressed a huge amount. So I am definitely a faster driver today than I was three years ago. Not from my natural ability, but more from the things you learn technically along the way.”

Russell has had the chance to sample machinery at both ends of the F1 grid, having made a one-off appearance in Mercedes’ dominant W11 at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix when Hamilton was ruled out with COVID-19. 

Despite having far from ideal preparation, Russell proved his talents beyond doubt by producing a lap that was just 0.026 slower than teammate Valtteri Bottas’ effort to secure a Mercedes front-row lockout on his first outing.

Out of the two F1 machines, Russell says driving the slower Williams was a more valuable experience because it has taught him how to get the best out of a car and extract every ounce of available pace.

“For sure,” Russell replied when asked if he feels his experiences at Williams have made him a better driver overall. “And going through these difficult moments definitely makes you stronger. 

“Even from a driving perspective, when you drive a top car, the car is planted. It’s what you want from a car, it’s a joy to drive and it gives you confidence. 

“In a way I’ve had a fortunate experience where I’ve had a car that is really difficult to drive, it doesn’t give me confidence and I have to properly work for it, to get more out of it. 

“I think it almost builds this toolbox and creates this skill set that you perhaps would not have had, had you always had a car that was great.” 

So what exactly does it feel like to be behind the wheel of an F1 car at the absolute peak of its performance? There is a sparkle in Russell’s eye as he describes the thrill, something he can only compare to being in control of the world’s fastest rollercoaster. 

“That feeling when you’ve managed to accomplish something special over one lap is pure elation and the adrenaline is absolutely pumping because it’s all on the line for such a short period of time,” he explains. 

“It’s sort of just being at one with the car. You need faith and confidence in the car. You need it to react as you want it to and you just feel like you are on this rollercoaster ride, going as fast as possible and everything else is blurred out. 

“You are focused on one thing and that is corner after corner after corner and just going as fast as possible. It truly feels like you are just on this rollercoaster going for an incredible ride, the fastest ride of your life.

“Every single weekend it feels like this. When you do a great job, the adrenaline is there, so it’s like you are in control of this marvellous rollercoaster ride.”

There are already a plethora of special laps Russell has produced during his relatively short F1 career. 

Without doubt, the most memorable to date is his incredible lap at Spa-Francorchamps last August when he almost pulled off one of the biggest shocks in F1 history. 

It was hard to fathom what Russell had just achieved as he put his Williams second on the grid with a one-shot, all-or-nothing flier in treacherous wet conditions around the longest and one of the most demanding circuits in the world. 

At one stage, Russell’s lap was enough to put him on provisional pole by 0.013s from Hamilton. But right at the death, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen improved to deny Russell a fairytale pole by just three-tenths of a second. 

“The thing with the wet lap is because the conditions are constantly changing, you are on the limit but the grip is different lap after lap, corner after corner, so no driver can perfect a lap as they can in the dry,” Russell responded when asked if his Spa lap was the best of his career. 

“In the dry, you are building up to it in Q1, Q2, Q3 and you’ve got that rhythm and you’ve got to be really on the limit. But of course that lap, given the circumstances, given everything, it was absolutely one of my best ones without a doubt.” 

Russell’s spectacular qualifying display ultimately earned him a first F1 podium when the Belgian Grand Prix was eventually abandoned with just two laps completed behind the Safety Car. 

Two other laps in particular stand out to Russell from the 2021 season; eliminating the faster Ferrari of Carlos Sainz on his way to reaching Q3 for the first time in Williams colours on medium rubber in Austria, and delighting his home crowd at Silverstone with a brilliant lap to take P8. 

“I think Silverstone was pretty special, getting into Q3 and Austria going into Q3 again on the medium tyre, out-qualifying Ferrari on softs. I’d say those [and Spa] are the three laps this year that really stand out for me,” Russell concludes. 

“Probably Silverstone being my best because every single time I left the pits, the whole grandstand was cheering and standing up. I could see in my peripheral vision, even on the lap, that everybody was standing up as I drove by, and that element of expectation that is upon you, is so enormous. 

"Also the team sent me out when the track was at its quietest, so it was often just myself on track, and the limelight was absolutely 100% on you. 

“That’s when the pressure is at its highest and to complete a lap that was one of your best, at your home race in front of the crowd when all eyes are on you, was pretty spectacular.” 

Given Russell’s outstanding qualifying form over the last three years, you get the sense there will be many more special laps to come from him when he climbs into a Mercedes.