‘I’ll wind my neck in to reach the top’: Big man George Russell is up for tall task of becoming world champion… as he opens up on ‘brutal’ practices and life in lockdown
- Williams driver George Russell has grand ambitions to climb to F1’s summit
- He went viral online during lockdown with a video showing his neck strength
- Williams moved back in with his parents during the pandemic as life got tough
- He takes to the track at Silverstone this weekend in competition for British GP
George Russell is first among Formula One’s big men. Lewis Hamilton is 5ft 7in. Russell, another talented Englishman at the start of his career, is 6ft 2in.
His neck, a central component of a grand prix driver’s livelihood, is long and stringy like the body it sits upon.
Some necks in the sport are as thick as oak trunks, like Kimi Raikkonen’s and Fernando Alonso’s. But Russell’s is a white-collar sort of neck.
Williams driver George Russell has grand ambitions to climb to F1’s summit
Yet the Williams driver, who will compete in his second British Grand Prix on Sunday, published a video online demonstrating conspicuous neck strength that might have looked like a magic trick to the uninitiated.
In the footage, Russell has his feet on the ground against a wall. His trainer holds his head. Russell leans sideways to 45 degrees, before his trainer pushes him back to the vertical, by his head. Repeat. It has been called the ‘Egyptian Mummy Neck Plank’.
‘I was surprised by the reaction that got,’ said Russell in his first face-to-face interview since lockdown, at the team factory in Grove, Oxfordshire.
‘It is difficult to put into perspective how hard driving an F1 car is on the neck. Even people in Formula Three can’t understand it.
‘The best way to describe it is that a high-speed corner will have five or six Gs and your head with your helmet weighs about 8kg (17lb), so that works out as 50kg (nearly 8st) going through your neck. The way to think of it is that you are lying on your bed with your head over your side, and then somebody places 50kg on your head. That is what you sustain for a second through a corner.
‘When you do it once it is no big deal but several times for 70 laps that is different.’
Gym for Russell during lockdown has been in an outbuilding of his parents’ house in Leicestershire. He put up a squat rack and pull-up bar and bought weights to fit out the room.
Russell sat down with Sportsmail to talk through life and the aims he wishes to achieve
Given his height, he cannot bulk up too much, keeping himself at 11st 9lb with a strict diet — salad for lunch each day — that has become second nature.
‘The minimum weight for drivers should go up by three or four kilos (about half a stone),’ he said. ‘Some of the new crop are bigger than the likes of Lewis and Felipe Massa (5ft 4in).’
Russell took up running quite seriously in the Covid break but an ankle niggle put paid to his intended timed test. He was aiming for 5km in the low 17-minute region after five weeks of dedicated training.
But when he returned to racing after the lull, the fitness work only got him so far. After first practice around the Red Bull Ring in Austria at the start of the month his whole body ached.
‘The change of direction your body goes through is brutal. Proper brutal,’ he said.
Russell is one of three home drivers that will take to the grid at Silverstone this weekend, alongside six-time champion Hamilton and McLaren’s 21-year-old Lando Norris.
Russell, like all other drivers on the grid, is getting used to the new normal amid the pandemic
Alex Albon, who competes under a Thai flag for Red Bull, is half-English: from London and a contemporary of Russell through the karting system in this country. Russell — born in King’s Lynn to Steve, a former agricultural merchant, and Alison, a former hairdresser — amassed a glittering motor racing c.v. as a teenager, capping it off with the Formula Two title in 2018.
Then he went to Williams. The problem was that the car was deadly slow last year. It is a fraction brisker this year, but still close to the bottom of the sea, which marked out his 12th place in qualifying at Hungary a fortnight ago as notable.
Norris, in contrast, has notched a third-place finish this year, making him the youngest Brit ever to mount the podium.
Russell is just as good as Norris. Red Bull boss Christian Horner, for one, is a keen admirer. Russell may even have been driving for Red Bull, instead of Albon, if it were not for his handcuff deal with Mercedes, where he is a junior driver.
The Mercedes link may yet land him a seat alongside Hamilton, but not for a while after Valtteri Bottas was confirmed for another season.
Russell is, in any case, signed up to Williams for next year and, to a large extent, must fight for scraps. Is it frustrating? ‘Of course,’ he said.
‘But I am loyal to Williams and I am in no rush. My target is to be world champion one day. But I want to be in Formula One for 15 or 20 years, so I have time for the breaks to come.
Russell says he target is one day become champion of the sport and dominate the field
‘I’d like to think Lando and Alex doing well is good for me. If they are getting good results people can think back to how I did against them in other formulas and see that as a positive for me.’
Russell also delivered a reminder of his versatile abilities by winning the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series that partly filled the gap left by Covid-19.
Albon is a particular pal, and they may be seeing more of each other in due course if Russell goes through with an intended move to Monaco. ‘I have a flat in London that I rent but I have been at my parents during lockdown,’ he said. ‘Having your mother around makes things easier!
‘But from a logistical point of view with so many races in Europe I think I will move to Monaco in the near future. It is very convenient. It’s a great lifestyle and I’m the sort of person who has a lot more motivation when I am in the sun.’
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