If Hamilton retired, I’d have got blame for Mercedes’ “step backwards”
Russell’s arrival from Williams coincided with Mercedes’ downturn in form as the reigning world champions struggled to get to grips with F1’s regulation overhaul at the start of 2022.
Mercedes endured a miserable campaign though Russell was able to secure the team’s only victory in Brazil on his way to unexpectedly outperforming seven-time world champion Hamilton.
2023 has shown little improvement so far for Mercedes, who are lagging behind early pacesetters Red Bull and have already conceded they will need to change their car concept to return to competitiveness.
Russell reckons his reputation would have taken a hit had Hamilton decided to walk away from F1 at the end of 2021.
“For me, being teammates with Lewis is such a golden opportunity,” Russell told Square Mile. “Especially now that the car isn’t performing as we want.
“Having him as my teammate has saved me in some regard, because if he had retired or left the sport when I joined the team, and we took this step backwards, people would be pointing the blame towards me!
“But I feel like now I’ve proven my worth and I’ve proven what I’m capable of, so there’s no pressure in that regard. I’m out there to do the best job possible and I think that is a very fortunate position to be in.”
Russell has made another impressive start to the season and has out-qualified Hamilton at each of the opening three races this year, though he trails his teammate by 20 points in the championship after retiring with engine trouble in Australia.
Despite edging Hamilton in his first season with Mercedes, the 25-year-old Briton insists he is not getting bogged down with how his performances stack up against F1’s most decorated driver.
“I’m not worried about any statistics or making sure that I’m on Lewis’s pace or whatever because I feel like I showed that last year,” Russell said. “What a position to be in to go up against the greatest ever.”