For the first time in many a year, most fans on Sunday were urging a Mercedes to win the Sakhir Grand Prix. George Russell did everything right, but his race came undone through no fault of his own. Heartbreak for Russell, but joy for another worthy winner Perez. However, Russell not winning was actually just what the sport needed.
Don’t get me wrong. I would’ve been ecstatic to see what would’ve been a fairy tale victory. Since his F2 title, fans have been clamouring to see if Russell is capable of being a true successor to Lewis Hamilton. That is to say, a generational talent who can lead the team after the seven-time champ decides to hang up his race suit.
While hardcore fans, such as (presumably) you, dear reader, understand the nuances of Formula One being a team sport, the layman does not. You understand that the driver is the final piece in a complex puzzle involving hundreds of people. That the best people win in a team effort, and that the driver is part of that team. A subpar driver with a mediocre team doesn’t win races. Aside from Spain 2012.
Even many new fans, such as any recent Drive to Survive additions won’t know Formula One without Mercedes being the frontrunner. It’s, therefore, more than understandable that outsiders think that dropping a trained monkey in the Mercedes would guarantee a win. If all you had seen for years with F1 as a slight interest are headlines with the words “Mercedes”, “victory” and “dominant” then, of course, your F1 world view will see a Merc being required to be a winner.
So the lack of silverware for Russell on Sunday in Sakhir may, in fact, help the cause of evangelists like myself. Those people who try to explain why Formula One is the best sport on the planet. We know that it was a Russell victory for the taking at Sakhir. But those who see only the race results on their news app of choice, or in their social media feed will not know the intricacies of how Perez became a Grand Prix winner.
So what does this have to do with why George Russell not winning may be a benefit? Well, any prospective fans with enough interest to possibly one day become a devout follower will have a basic idea of how F1 is going this year. They are likely to know that Hamilton is champion. And that there was a replacement in his seat from the backmarker team Williams (my heart still breaks typing those words, by the way).
But what if that fan with a surface level understanding saw a driver who has never scored a point suddenly become a race winner? It would confirm the narrative they would inevitably have picked up that F1 just needs any old driver to steer the best car and become a winner.
Hardcore F1 fans know the talent George Russell has. While his fellow F2 graduates of Norris and Albon have gone onto podiums and points since entering the sport in 2019, Russell has not. Yet he outscored both of them in that 2018 F2 championship. A year filled with far more ability than 2019’s Formula 2 crop too, may I add.
His move to Williams was political thanks to his Junior Team participation with Williams’ engine supplier, Mercedes. Though Powerpoint presentation skills could also have played a big part…
Now all of that may seem horribly apparent to us F1 nerds. But ask yourself how many non-F1 fan friends or relatives you have who knows that Williams and Mercedes have an affiliation? Exactly.
So it stands to reason that many sports fans would see George Russell in the same light as say Giovinazzi or Latifi. If Russell had won on Sunday, to their minds, logic would say plonking any driver into Lewis Hamilton’s car would’ve created a race winner. I mean no disrespect to Antonio or Nicholas. I’m sure both could score a good haul of points as a temporary Silver Arrows driver at Sakhir. But they just are not on the same level that Russell is, as he demonstrated for so many laps on Bahrain’s outer loop.
Formula One is suffering from a lot of criticism right now for single team domination. Perez’s win thankfully deprives the detractors of further ammo. For some reason, Cristiano Ronaldo playing for the best teams in Europe is acceptable but Lewis Hamilton driving for Mercedes is unfair. It’s baffling. Of course the best F1 teams hire the best drivers, just like the best football teams buy the best players. And that’s why Mercedes hired Russell years ago, not Latifi
Furthermore, on a slightly different note, the lack of a George Russell Sakhir victory did allow the star man of the season to get a much-deserved win. Sergio Perez faces an uncertain future right now. Should Red Bull not choose him for the 2021 seat, that bitter pill will be slightly easier to swallow now he has achieved what many drivers in Formula One have not.
The emotional scenes on that Sakhir podium gave a visual reminder of what it means, and how much a driver commits their life to the sport that we see as weekend entertainment. There are many men who have deserved a victory, possibly even more than Perez, but his current plight makes his claim particularly worthy. Ten years of Formula One racing potentially coming to an end, and a P1 is finally his.
It is, of course, impossible to know what the future holds, but you do get the feeling that George Russell will be a winner sooner than later. Mercedes may not always be the team to beat, but Russell does not always have to be a Mercedes employee. While Russell undoubtedly has a future in F1, Perez does not.
I was screaming at my television on Sunday evening when Bono told the world George had a left rear puncture. But now we’re days away from the heat of that moment, I think the real fairy tale, the decade-long story, and the real deserved winner was the man in last place on lap one.
I may have morally grey reasons for being happy at George Russell’s Sakhir loss. Perez winning gifts me a Trojan Horse of a reason to help acquire new F1 fans. But on equally, the amount it meant to Perez, and Racing Point, both of whom may never win again, was evident to see. It says to me that Russell’s short-term loss gave elation to many who had never enjoyed success. And that can only be good for the sport, as well as for fans like you and me, too.