George Russell accepts Williams must treat the opening rounds of the 2019 Formula 1 world championship like practice sessions until it can uncover a competitive pace.

Russell finished two laps down on the leaders on his F1 debut at the Australian Grand Prix, with teammate Robert Kubica three laps down having suffered first-lap damage, as the team’s painful start to 2019 continued.

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Having missed a shakedown plus the opening two-and-a-half days of F1 pre-season testing last month due to delays on building its FW42, Williams has braced for another tough campaign after finishing bottom of the pile in the constructors’ standings last year.

Russell felt the 2019 opener was a key learning experience both for him and Williams but concedes he isn’t racing yet given the significant pace lacking from his car compared to the rest of the F1 field.

“To be honest at the end of the race I was almost stuck behind Norris and Perez because I was on fresh tyres and that was quite nice actually to be so close and understand actually how much downforce we’re losing when we are there,” Russell said. “We can almost say these are practice session for when we have the pace.

“We’ll go to the factory, we’ll all have a sit down with the designers, engineers and try and figure out a plan of attack moving forward. We will analyse a bit from this weekend, but we’ve just got to really together agree on a direction we need to take.”

Russell feels he can be proud of his F1 debut despite the result and current problems at Williams, while he also took positives from his performance in qualifying.

“In qualifying the car wasn’t feeling terrible to drive and it was so enjoyable to put the car on the limit around a track like this,” he said. “Such a thrill driving between these walls, bumpy track, when you hook something together there’s a huge amount of satisfaction and that’s really how I felt in qualifying.

“Overall I think I can be proud and pleased with myself as we went into this weekend knowing what we’d expect and I achieved pretty much all of my goals.”

Despite his limited F1 experience, Russell also believes the drivers must take a lead role in the team in order to direct Williams’ recovery and solutions to its pace problems.

“It’s not like junior formula when you just get in and drive as quickly as you can,” he said. “It’s sort of on my shoulders at the moment to push the team in the right direction. I’ve got their full support at the moment and this is just a bit of a process.”

On the eve of the new F1 season technical head Paddy Lowe took a leave of absence for an undetermined time period having seen Williams struggle at pre-season testing.

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