F1 Hot Lap with George Russell

As race weekend interviews go, our chat with George Russell at the Circuit of The Americas last Friday was unique. Not only was it at the Circuit of The Americas - it was actually on the race track itself!

As part of the numerous new projects in Formula 1 this year, tyre supplier Pirelli has been working with some of the sport’s manufacturers to offer hot lap experiences to guests. The Pirelli Hot Laps have proven to be a hit among those in both the passenger seat and the drivers themselves.

Crash.net was given the opportunity to go for a hot lap with Formula 2 star and recently-announced 2019 Williams F1 driver Russell at COTA last weekend, making it the first interview we’ve done to hit speeds of 160 mph!

The Mercedes AMG GT R is one of the highest performance models produced by the manufacturer, taking inspiration from its motorsport activities. Boasting a V8 engine capable of producing upwards of 575 BHP, the car still remains nimble, particularly in the hands of a racing driver of Russell’s calibre.

I’ve done a couple of hot laps before, getting a run around the Nürburgring GP circuit with Tom Kristensen in an Audi RS3, and Bahrain in a suped-up Renault Clio, but this was a cut above. COTA is a track I’ve always been fascinated by ever since its arrival on the F1 calendar, so the chance to get a passenger-seat view of it with a future F1 star behind the wheel was nothing short of a privilege.

The above video shows you the run in full (much of which I spend slightly open-mouthed in awe of the speed at the forces) and features the chat with Russell, but there was a lot to take away from the hot lap.

Firstly, Turn 1 is as steep as it looks. If you listen closely, you’ll hear me swear quietly when Russell hits the brakes. The combination of the Mercedes’ sharp braking system and gravity working against you really pushed me back into my seat. Yet the corner then opens up relatively quickly, even giving Russell the chance to step out the rear end of the car a little bit on exit.

Then come the esses. Styled on the Maggots and Becketts section at Silverstone, it’s naturally harder to get a GT car through them than a single seater, requiring a bit of kerb-riding. But Russell managed it well. It struck me how the rhythm changes at every section of the esses, with the gentler left-right sections opening up into more determined ‘corners’.

The run down to the hairpin sees you fly over the crest at Turn 10 at speed before hurtling down the hill, the brakes then being applied, and the corner again seeming wider than it looks.

The back straight really allowed Russell to stretch the legs of the GT R, hitting a top speed of 160 mph before working the brakes to slow the car down. He then noted how the following section isn’t his favourite as it tends to break the rhythm a bit, and you can see that: the complex of corners that follow are a bit clunky.

Similar to the esses, the approach to the long complex of right-handers at Turn 17 and 18 needs to be more measure in a GT car than in a single-seater, with each corner being treated separately. 18 allowed Russell to get more power down, pushing you back before getting on the brakes for the penultimate corner.

A little run wide onto the kerbs - track limits, Charlie!? - before the rear of the car was stepped out at the final corner, and comfortably one of the toughest - yet by far the most enjoyable interviews I’ve tried to do in my time as a journalist was complete. Boy, what an experience!