In a sport so eternally driven by speed, are only star drivers and winners making Formula 1 popular?
In the pinnacle of motor racing, there are, with all due respect to heroes like Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, young drivers too, who’re taking F1 where it has always endeavoured to reach.
New geographies. Newer fans.
Admirers of not just speed, but an interplay of technology and data; the confluence of pace and tech that truly makes the sport larger than life, not simply a celebration of speed.
And among the few young drivers who are rendering to the flashy, eccentrically quick surface of Formula 1, a sense of simplicity and calmness is George Russell.
The boy from England who has the makings to be a Great Briton, provided he continues to persist in a demanding sport with the quintessential composure that puts him in a different league.
A league so special that none other than Mercedes have offered George Russell a seat for the 2022 season.
While in some ways the Williams driver’s promotion was always a matter of when- not why- Russell’s ascension to the sport’s top-ranked team highlights a lesson that has a parallel with India’s Great Wall, Rahul Dravid.
And both men being respected, one a much-liked F1 Youngblood and the other, an utterly successful batsman, is not the only commonality.
Truth being told, what Dravid demonstrated throughout his career with a sense of inimitability, the trait that today is touted a “virtue” without which one cannot succeed, George Russell has already offered across various races.
During his pre-India days, when the famous Karnataka batsman, who was just as good in Hockey, wasn’t getting selected into the Indian national Cricket side, as expected from a young man, Rahul Dravid was sad.
Though, down- but not out. Dejected- but not hopeless.
In a speech delivered at a revered platform a few years ago, the ‘Mr. Dependable’ of Indian Cricket confessed to coming across an obscure looking sticker on a scooter, if one remembers correctly, reading which he got all his answers.
It said- “God’s delays are not his denials!”
These were truly evocative and moving words, one reckons, to a young man who was desperately searching for the opportunity to step on to the big cricketing stage.
Someone who was known to take failures in his stride and never took success to his head, Dravid’s life changed upon sinking in the words of wisdom he found on a scooter of all objects.
Not that Dravid ever threw his bat around or took the route of temper even in that difficult phase to express frustration, though only a talented young man not finding his big breakthrough would truly have known what it felt inside.
Cut to George Russell.
At the 2021 Austrian GP, when it finally looked certain that Russell would get that elusive point that evaded him all of 2020, Fernando Alonso in his Alpine came in and waltzed to a tenth.
This meant, George Russell ended the Austrian GP without a point just when 1 point had looked so certain having defended so valiantly from a giant of the sport in the final few laps at Spielberg.
Not that it was the first time that the 23-year-old was left gutted.
Last year, at Monza, where the F1 circus has arrived now for the Italian Grand Prix, Russell missed out on what could’ve been a fighting qualifying run at the track famously called the “Temple of Speed!”
Even there, the blessed moment was nowhere to be found.
But was George Russell at fault? Not really; since many drivers bunched up at the Parabolica to get a decent tow on the cars ahead, several machines were left driving side-by-side to the others during their hot laps.
In his final qualifying lap, the now Mercedes-bound driver (for 2022) got stuck behind Kimi Raikkonen and Esteban Ocon.
This denied him a great qualifying chance and he’d begin from nineteenth.
Again, this wasn’t the only low point of 2020?
When maestro Lewis Hamilton, who Russell joins the next season onwards, sat out at Sakhir 2021 race having contracted Covid, it was the Williams driver who got the opportunity of his life to drive fill the vacant Mercedes seat
But guess what?
Starting from second on the grid, that too, in his maiden appearance for the Black Arrows, Russell snatched the lead from Bottas to control the race proceedings.
A move that was stellar and remarkably well controlled.
Though after a few sensational fast laps toward the second half of the race and his scheduled stop, he’d suffer a puncture and would, eventually finish outside of points.
It was a classic case of yet so close, eventually so far.
But even then, a massively heartbroken George Russell, chinned up and continued to focus ahead.
Sad he certainly was, but was not dejected in spirit.
Throughout his runs up to the point of Hungary this year, you felt that big George Russell moment would come but none knew where and when?
That’s precisely when a fighting P8 at the celebrated Hungaroring, a twisty and high-speed track, gave Russell four points and, in the end, a reward for his patience and unrelenting effort.
Some may say George was fortunate since the race was marked by an opening lap skirmish unfortunately executed by Bottas that led to several cars retiring, but then, haven’t we heard that destiny favours the brave?
The only alteration in this tale, if at all, was that destiny favours the brave but also the committed one.
The driver who never gave up and finally earned points not before his third F1 season.
For continuing to fight it out there and never succumbing to the natural frustrations that often consume the youth, George Russell, much like Rahul Dravid, blossomed amid the chaos and the pressure of expectations. Not to forget, having exercised patience and remarkable self restraint even in moments where he could so easily have given up.
Truly speaking, what the Wall of cricket said – God’s delays aren’t his denials- was applicable at Hungary, August 1, 2021.
And look where Russell’s patience has led him to today- a seat with Mercedes for the next season!
Patience does have its rewards. That’s the lesson.