W ow is your balance sheet for your first Formula 1 season?
Russell: I'll give myself a 7 out of 10. There were definitely a few very good races and some not so good. But I wouldn't change a detail. I've learned something from every incident, more from the bad than from the good.
How difficult is it for you to assess yourself in a car that is a second behind the field?
Russell: As a driver, you always know whether you've done a good job or not. When you've driven a qualifying lap, you can tell whether that was a good lap, whether you made mistakes or put the tires in your window. I judge myself on this basis. The results may have been the same, but I was happy with some races and not others. Because I know inside myself that I either got the maximum out of it or could have done something better.
Are there any other benchmarks besides lap times?
Russell: The obvious yardstick is your teammate. Formula 1 is sometimes frustrating. Let's take Hungary. I qualified in 16th place. Everyone patted me on the shoulder and told me what a great job I did. But it wasn't necessarily better than usual. The difference was that our car worked better there. You can see that with other drivers too.
Ricciardo qualified fourth in Montreal. Great job, but I'm sure that he has done similarly good laps on other tracks, which didn't really work out because the car wasn't that good on this track. Maybe he was only eleventh on those laps or didn't even make it through Q1. You always have to see the whole. Team, driver, car. But everyone just looks at the result. It was the same for me when I was still a spectator in Formula 1. You only notice the difference when you are in the middle of it. I know when I've been good, Williams and Mercedes know. And that's all that counts.
Do you sometimes say to yourself: I would be so far ahead in a McLaren, and even further in a Mercedes?
Russell: No, I never do that. You're just frustrating yourself. I've made my peace with the car I drive. There is no point in dreaming about another car. In the end I have to drive this car and do my best.
How long did it take to accept the situation as it is?
Russell: That worked quite fast. So around the GP Spain. Not that I was disappointed in the first few races. But secretly they still hoped that something would suddenly be found on the car out of nowhere that would make it faster. I then realized pretty quickly that everything takes time in Formula 1. When I look at the development in the wind tunnel now, I see how we are currently laying the foundation for the future. Now the curve begins to climb really steeply. The direction for next year is correct.
What can we expect in 2020?
Russell: It is difficult to say around how much we will improve because I cannot estimate what progress the others are making. It would be presumptuous to say that we will be in the midfield next year. What I can say: If everyone else stood still over the winter, then we would fight right in the middle of the field.
Your teammate is your benchmark. How good is Robert Kubica today?
Russell: Robert is very good. He really challenged me. The results may not show that and people think that my game is easy because I was always ahead of him in qualifying. But it is not easy. Our car is very difficult to drive. In truth, we have one lap that counts. The track improves dramatically in Q1, sometimes by up to a second from start to finish. That is why it only depends on this one last Q1 lap.
Robert always drives full attack. Sometimes it works with our car and the tires, but sometimes it doesn't. I've ridden Pirelli tires for the past three years. You are very special. They have their own laws about warming up, managing the race and how to prepare them perfectly for a qualifying round. You cannot force everything out of these tires, you cannot slip, you cannot run over them. You're just punishing yourself.
What wasthe most important lesson you learned?
Russell: Figuring out what information I need to give the team to get the most out of the car. And how important this information is. 60 people in the team have to be able to do something with it, react with a setup change or let it flow into the development of the car. You have to think carefully about each word. Every wrong or imprecise word can have fatal consequences.
In the last few years you have been used to driving for victories, podium places and points. Now it was all far away. What is the motivation for going into a Grand Prix?
Russell: When I made my peace with the situation, it wasn't difficult anymore. You focus on your race. The enemy is basically the car. You want to get the most out of it. The goals shift with the quality of the car. If we make it into Q2 or even Q3 next year, I want points in every race. Then podiums, victories, titles. Before you have become world champion, you always run after a goal.
This year three Formula 2 drivers made their Formula 1 debut. Are you sometimes jealous of Lando Norris and Alexander Albon, who are already enjoying their first successes in better cars?
Russell: Not really. I am happy when you do a good job. First of all, because they're my buddies. Second, because they add value to me. I beat them in Formula 2. The better they drive, the better I stand. Then people tend to believe that I can do as well or maybe better than them.
Why is this generation of drivers so strong?
Russell: Because from the age of 13 we practically always raced against each other and fought our way up together: Alex, Lando, Max, Esteban, Charles and me. Alex was always one step ahead, Lando one step back. We knew that in the end it would be a knockout between us. We had to beat the other. So we have each othermutually driven, made better. The level was already incredibly high in the kart. We all have the same attitude. Everyone is hungry, ready to make sacrifices, determined to live this Formula 1 dream. Leaving school early, not going to parties, not drinking alcohol, working out every day, spending time in the factory with the team wasn't a big deal for me. That was normal for me. Because it was normal for Charles, Lando and the others too.
During the summer break, Mercedes had to decide who will drive the second car in 2020. It was a decision between Bottas and Ocon. When asked about you, Toto Wolff said you were too young to race against someone like Lewis Hamilton. What do you think?
Russell: If I had to race against Lewis next year, the first six months would be incredibly difficult. That would be the ultimate challenge. But I firmly believe that one day I'll be able to ride at his level. Not now, of course. Look at Max Verstappen. He was put into the Red Bull overnight and did a great job. But he's definitely better today than in 2016. It would be the same for me.
Every race makes me a better driver. Formula 1 has become so complex. You are constantly gaining new experiences. About the tires, the setup, the collaboration with the engineers, the settings in the car such as brake balance, engine brake, differential. Lewis has been with the same team with the same engineers for seven years. They know each other inside out. That's an incredible database of knowledge. When Toto says I still need time, I trust him. He's been in the sport longer than me.
If young drivers want to get into Formula 1, they have to go to a junior program today. Where would you have ended up with your talent if you hadn't had the support of a manufacturer?
Russell: I would definitely not be in Formula 1. Mercedes hired me because they believed in me. But if you're overlooked, you have a problem. I would never have been able to drive Formula 3 or Formula 2 on my own. But it's not just about the money. I learned so much at Mercedes. You can't buy that experience. My personal advantage was that I have an older brother who started karting ten years before me. My father learned so much from this time about all the things that can be done wrong that when I started karting at the age of eight he knew exactly what to do and what not to do. He had learned that in a kart race you can get by with one set of tires all weekend and not have to throw money after people. When I started to drive real racing cars, it was clear that it wouldn't go on without outside help.