Tears flow as Russell arrives as Formula One GP winner

Reading Time: 5 minutes

George Russell has dreamed of becoming a Formula One winner since he was a kid with a pedal car, and when the moment arrived in Brazil on Sunday the Mercedes driver could not hold back the tears.

The Briton has ridden an emotional rollercoaster since he won the 2018 Formula Two title and joined backmarkers Williams, where he was unable to score even a point for his first two seasons.

He finally did that as a stand-in for Mercedes in 2020 and stood on the podium last year when he finished second for Williams in a farcical, rain-hit Belgian Grand Prix stopped after three laps behind the safety car.

This year, moving into a coveted Mercedes seat as team mate to seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton, Russell arrived just as the team’s dominance departed in a bouncing and uncompetitive car.

Sunday’s well-deserved win at Interlagos, the penultimate race of the campaign, was a first of the season for Mercedes and first since they won eight constructors’ championships in a row.

“I think I’ve dreamt of this moment, for sure, many, many times. And you never really know how it’s going to pan out,” said Russell.

“I’m so proud of the whole team. The progress we’ve made since the start of the year is just unbelievable. And what a boost it’s going to give us going into next season.”

Russell, winner of the Saturday sprint that set the starting grid, did not put a wheel wrong on Sunday and appeared the picture of calm as he dealt with two safety car periods and Hamilton looming in his mirrors.
“This is just the beginning,” he said over the team radio.

“I knew we could do this. I might need some tissues — I’m crying.”

On the slowing down lap, the memories from those early days of travelling in a campervan with his parents to karting races came flooding back and he thought also of all those who had helped him on his way.

“I was pretty impressed at how quickly I started crying, to be honest, once I crossed the line,” he said.
“By the time we were at Turn Two tears were flooding. I just thought of my family — everybody back at home. As soon as I got my phone straight after the race, I called them all in a group FaceTime.

“It’s just been such an emotional roller coaster and journey for all of us.”

Two safety cars

In a lively race with two safety car periods, honorary Brazilian Hamilton overcame an early collision with Red Bull’s double world champion Max Verstappen to race back in front of a cheering crowd.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz finished third, with teammate Charles Leclerc fourth and unhappy that Ferrari did not order a switch given his battle with Red Bull’s Sergio Perez for second in the championship.

Verstappen, who won his second title with four races to spare, helped Leclerc out by refusing to give back sixth place to Perez, who had earlier let him through, despite the team asking him to if he could not pass Alpine’s Fernando Alonso.

“I have given you my reasons,” said the Dutch driver by way of explanation.

Russell led away cleanly from the start, with Hamilton slotting in behind, but the safety car was deployed when McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen collided on the opening lap.

Magnussen, who took his first pole position in Friday qualifying and scored a point in the Saturday sprint, was hit from behind by the McLaren and smashed back into it after spinning around.

Verstappen and Hamilton then made contact at the re-start on lap seven as they fought for second place, with the pair dropping to eighth and ninth respectively.

Race stewards decided the Red Bull driver was the offending party and handed him a five-second penalty for causing the collision.

“Where did they expect me to go?” Verstappen said when informed by his team over the radio. “He just closed the door on me.”

McLaren’s Lando Norris also collected a five-second penalty for causing a collision when he tangled with Leclerc, who was sent spinning into the tyre wall but was able to keep going.

Hamilton’s car was undamaged in the incident with Verstappen and he was third by lap 18.

The Briton took the lead on lap 25 when Russell made his first pitstop and stayed there until the end of 29 when he came in to switch from soft to medium tyres, returning in fourth place.

Verstappen was running in 15th place at the half distance after two pitstops in which he had a new front wing, served his penalty and suffered a further delay with a slow rear tyre change.

There was late drama when the virtual safety car was deployed on lap 53 after Norris stopped on track, and it then became a full safety car.

“So what are we doing?,” Russell asked over the radio as the field bunched up again with Hamilton right behind. “Are we racing or are we securing the one-two?”

“You are racing, just be respectful,” came the reply from the pit wall.

Russell then managed the re-start well and pulled away from Hamilton to take the chequered flag waved by Brazil’s retired double world champion Emerson Fittipaldi.