George Russell said he risked being permanently excluded from Mercedes when he rejected their support during his former years in Formula 1.
Russell will step up his F1 career this season as a member of Mercedes’ championship-winning team, a deserved reward after his excellent three-year stint with Williams.
However, the 23-year-old could have taken a very different route to the top, or perhaps been completely sidelined by a risky decision made in regards to his thriving Formula 1 career.
Following his victory in the 2014 British Formula 4 Championship, George Russell was approached by Mercedes F1 boss Toto Wolff, who offered the rising star sponsorship and Mercedes backing to race in the European Formula 3 Championship. Russell, on the other hand, declined the offer and instead put his trust in Carlin and Volkswagen.
“I was already having conversations with Toto and Mercedes prior to joining Carlin and Volkswagen,” Russell recalled.
“After my meeting with Toto at the start of 2015, I sent him an email just to say, ‘I really appreciate the meeting and thanks for all of your advice etc. Just to let you know, I’ll actually be joining Carlin and Volkswagen as opposed to Mücke Motorsport and Mercedes because I believe it’s better for my career’.
“And I had the opinion that if I went out and did a good job, Mercedes would still be interested.”
“So he replied back, ‘I think you’re making a wrong decision but let’s stay in touch and let’s see where we go from there’.”
Mercedes wasn’t the only team trying to recruit Russell into its young driver program, as BMW also offered him a lucrative deal to compete in the German DTM series when he was 17 years old.
“I had the contract on the table from BMW almost ready to sign it, and that’s when I got the phone call from Gwen Lagrue,” remembered Russell.
“I was sat in the bath, actually. He was saying, ‘I want to have a conversation about joining Mercedes’. And that’s where it all started, really.
“It was absolutely clear from Mercedes-Benz if you signed with BMW, there won’t be an option with Mercedes in the future.”