The upcoming F1 season will undoubtedly mark the biggest year of his life and career to date after spending the last three seasons racing for Mercedes customer team Williams. 

Russell could no longer be ignored by the big bosses at Mercedes thanks to his starring performances for Williams over his three-year stint, which earned him a deserved break five years after being signed up to its junior programme. 

Having won races every step of the way during his meteoric rise up the junior ranks, including back-to-back title triumphs in GP3 and Formula 2, Russell was forced to reset his goals and mindset when he finally got his F1 break in a woefully uncompetitive Williams in 2019. 

Russell found himself languishing at the very back of the grid for the first time in his racing career, but it was a challenge the Briton fully embraced.

“It didn’t take that long [to adapt to] because I had the mindset that ‘this is what we’ve got, there’s nothing I can do about it’,” Russell tells Crash.net in an exclusive interview.

“I’m not going to focus on something I can’t change and I’m going to make the most of this difficult situation. I think that made me stronger.” 

Over the following three seasons, Russell helped Williams slowly edge away from rock-bottom and up to eighth in the constructors’ championship by the end of 2021, signalling the beginning of a hopeful new era at Grove. 

Each step of the way the small victories got bigger. Q2 appearances soon morphed into Q3 outings as Russell’s superb displays quickly became the norm, earning him high praise and the nickname ‘Mr Saturday’. 

Following a barren two-year spell without a top-10 finish, Williams finally returned to the points at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix. At the next race in Belgium, a sensational qualifying lap from Russell in wet conditions ultimately paved the way for an unlikely podium finish when the race was abandoned due to heavy rain after just two laps behind the Safety Car.

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But for a hugely ambitious talent like Russell, only the sweet taste of victory champagne on the top step of the F1 podium will suffice. 

“Obviously I want to be a winner, I want to be a world champion and we spent the whole time at the back of the grid,” he continued. “2020 was a stronger year but it wasn’t enough for us. 2021 was a stronger year but it was never enough. 

“When I got into Q2 for the first time, we celebrated a lot. When you do that a second and a third time, that wears off, you want to get to Q3. When you are in Q3, we celebrated a lot and we were excited. But then you want to be in Q3 at every other event, or every event. Until you are world champion, it’s never enough. 

“For me, obviously, if you were to give me a choice; would I prefer to be last or P10, I would say P10. But it’s not a linear progression. I’m still learning my trade and if I’m P10, I’m still not world champion, so I’m not overly fussed. 

“I’m more grateful to have been able to learn my trade, a bit under the radar, and being prepared as much as possible for when I do have a car that hopefully can help me achieve what I want to achieve.” 

When Hamilton was ruled out of the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, Russell was handed the opportunity to prove himself in front-running machinery as he stepped up to Mercedes for a one-off, stand-in appearance. 

Russell’s Mercedes outing was far from ideal. He had to squeeze into a car that was optimised for Hamilton’s smaller stature, and also had to wear race boots that were a size too small. 

Despite having no prior experience of driving Mercedes’ W11, Russell was only narrowly beaten to pole position by Valtteri Botttas and outperformed the Finn in the race with a dominant display. 

Russell appeared on course to land a fairytale victory until a team strategy error and a late puncture cruelly robbed him of what would have been a deserved maiden F1 win. 

It was in his crushing disappointments like Sakhir 2020, and other low points such as crashing his Williams behind the Safety Car while running inside the points at Imola the same year, where Russell learned his most valuable lesson.    

“It wasn’t just the Mercedes experience, but there were other experiences as well, and dealing with and bouncing back from disappointment is part of life and part of competitive sport,” he explained. 

“You know a championship isn’t won or lost in one race, it’s won over the course of a season. You will always have disappointing race weekends, you’ll have failures, you’ll have success. But if you don’t bounce back from those disappointments, you are only going to compromise yourself and your team for the remaining races. 

“So accepting those disappointments, learning from it, and equally just moving on and going from there.” 

And Russell believes his experiences of learning how to overcome difficult moments have ultimately helped shape him into a stronger driver ahead of his Mercedes switch. 

“Absolutely,” Russell responded when asked if he feels better prepared to deal with any setbacks he may encounter in the future. 

“I think people who have it easy throughout their career, throughout their life, when they do face these disappointments, they struggle to deal with it, and probably aren’t able to bounce back as quickly. 

"And that’s why I’m grateful that I’ve been in this position on a number of occasions, to make me more resilient. I would have loved to have won that race [Sakhir 2020], but that’s not what I want my career to be remembered by. 

“I want to be the most complete driver possible and I want to look back in 20 years time and say ‘that was an incredibly strong career, every single outcome had a reason behind it and that made me a stronger driver’. I believe that race in Bahrain, losing that victory, will make me a stronger driver.

“In a way, it would have been too much of a fairytale to have won and I probably wouldn’t have appreciated the achievement if that had happened.” 

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After enjoying the luxury and relative comfort of a relaxed environment at Williams, Russell will face new levels of pressure and expectation when he becomes a Mercedes driver.

Fellow Brit Lando Norris has drawn plaudits for his openness about the mental health struggles he has faced since arriving on the grid, having admitted he was often depressed as he battled doubts during his rookie season. 

Like Norris, Russell is keen to dispel the stigma surrounding mental health.

“Mental health is something that needs to be spoken about openly for everybody, especially in men,” he said. “It’s something that people perceive as weakness but I think it’s quite the opposite; if you are able to talk about it, it just shows your strength. 

“I wouldn’t say I’ve struggled with self-doubt but definitely there have been moments of disappointment and struggling to power through very difficult moments where you find yourself in a potential dark space within your professional career. Sometimes it goes over into your personal life as well. 

“We’re all so passionate and if something brings you down professionally, for us, it follows through into your personal life and you are almost on this downward spiral. I think you’ve got to face these challenges head-on and not hide behind it - that will help you power through, raise your spirits and lift you higher. 

“I feel grateful I’ve been through these emotions and some of these experiences, not incredibly tough ones, but I could have been in a situation where if I didn’t face any of these experiences I wouldn’t have learnt how to deal with these disappointments.”