On eve of his first Grand Prix, Norfolk's F1 hope vows: 'I want to be world champion'
PUBLISHED: 12:24 15 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:29 17 March 2019
Norfolk's George Russell is vowing to become Formula One world champion as his racing career gets under way at the Australian Grand Prix tomorrow.
King’s Lynn-born Russell, 21, fulfils part of a lifelong ambition when he climbs into his Williams car at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit on Sunday.
The former GP3 and Formula Two champion said he would not be content to just be there to make up the numbers.
“I want to become a Formula One world champion,” he said. “I recognise that it is an incredible achievement to make it to this stage, but the journey starts again.
“I don’t want to be here for one or two seasons. I want to be in F1 for 15 or 20 years, and the only way I am going to do that is by giving my everything and competing at this level.
“It’s very surreal because this has been my dream, and I have to recognise that F1 isn’t football and there aren’t hundreds of opportunities at different clubs in different leagues in different countries.
“F1 has room for only the best 20 drivers in the world, and being a part of that elite group is incredible.”
Russell is set to usher in a new dawn for British motor racing with compatriot Lando Norris, the 19-year-old McLaren driver, also taking his grand prix bow this weekend.
The two starlets are said to be the hottest British F1 prospects since five-time world champion Hamilton burst on to the scene in Melbourne a dozen years ago.
But Russell will be starting from the back of the grid this year with Williams in a state of disarray.
The British team, winners of 16 combined individual and team honours, missed the first two-and-a-half-days of pre-season testing in Barcelona because their car was not ready, and when they did hit the track their machinery was slow.
“My goal with Williams is to build this team and develop the car,” continued Russell.
“I don’t have any interest in racing for last place. I want to put Williams back to where they belong.”
Standing at 6ft 2in, the stringy Russell will be one of the tallest drivers on the grid. But new weight rules introduced for this season - a driver can now be 80kgs complete with his kit - has enabled him to beef up over the winter.
“The increased weight limit was the best Christmas present ever,” he said. “Since the end of last year I have put on five kilos - 75 per cent muscle and 25 per cent fat - so I weigh 73 kilos which is more normal for someone my size. I can now look in the mirror and see something more than just a lanky man.
“I was so skinny before, and I didn’t have an ounce of anything on me, but now I feel so much better, not just physically, but mentally, too. I have more energy, and I can’t wait to get going.”
Russell grew up in Cambridgeshire and attended Wisbech Grammar School. Teachers tell of his desire to reach the top from an early age.
Current pupils made a Good Luck card, with the message: “Everyone at WGS is cheering you on.” One added: “You taught me dreams do come true.” Another wrote: “Drive like the wind, we are all behind you.” Russell tweeted: “That’s amazing. Thanks guys.”
Dr Kevin Mann, assistant head of senior school remembered speaking to him about his motor racing ambitions.
“Right from the beginning it was very clear that George was determined that he would have a career in motor racing,” he said. “His love of speed was evident at an early age.
“It has been amazing to watch his progression from kart racing around Europe whilst at school to now his impressive success with F1. We are happy that the school was able to play a part in his journey.”
Russell first got into a kart at the age of eight and won his way steadily towards motorsport’s pinnacle from there.
This weekend marks the culmination of years of sacrifice, not just by Russell, but his family as well.
Between the ages of eight and 12, it was Team Russell on the kart track, with his father Steve the mechanic as dad and lad team lived out of the back of a motorhome.
Russell spent his first F1 pay packet on a new Mercedes for his father.
“I sorted my dad out a new car but I ani trying to stay grounded,” he told The Times.
“There has been so much sacrifice from everybody. It’s not that ‘I’ have made it.
“It’s ‘we’ as a family. Without the support of my parents or brother or sister. They had different dreams and aspirations in life, but they understood that my parents gave more support to me and more focus to help me achieve my dreams.
“My siblings could have been very affected by this or made a problem out of it but they didn’t because they believed in me.”
Many of Russell’s early wins were at the Ellough Park Race Circuit, a kart racing track near Beccles.
Managing director Richard Lock said: “His older brother Benjy Russell won the British Championships and the European Championships. George has come along and taken that a step further.
“He’s a talented lad, a very nice lad, he’s very down to earth. I’m sure with the right car under him he could go all the way. It’s a nice story - british lad driving British car.”