George Russell’s Lewis Hamilton message as £40m-a-year Mercedes talks near end

F1 sensation George Russell insists he is not getting carried away despite receiving special praise from reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton.

Russell, 22, stood in for Hamilton at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix when the Mercedes star tested positive for Covid-19 and gained plenty of admirers, having led for most of the 87 laps before a pit-stop blunder and a slow puncture cost him victory.

The youngster, who was brought in on a loan from Williams, eventually finished ninth as a result, but his impressive performance was enough to convince many that he could one day succeed Hamilton.

While he is currently under contract with Williams, a promotion to Mercedes is widely regarded as simply a matter of time.

Hamilton, who is close to penning a new £40million-a-year contract with Mercedes ahead of the 2021 season, led the praise for Russell at the back end of last year and branded him “the future of the sport”.

However, the up-and-coming driver is refusing to let compliments from a man he regards as a “legend” distract him on his own journey to F1 stardom.

“Lewis is a legend and of course the greatest racer in the sport. My respect for him in the last four years has increased enormously,” Russell said in an interview with The Sportsman.

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“To receive such nice words from him, that means a lot to me, but I won't let it affect me. After all, Lewis is not going to make a difference to my career.

“I have to do it all myself. I have to go out on the track and perform there. It doesn't matter if every driver says I'm the best driver of them all if I don't perform. You have to show your worth on the track.”

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Despite missing out on a debut victory in Bahrain, Russell believes the race was a “massive stepping stone” in his career as well as a major confidence booster.

“The weekend went as well as it could have done until it didn’t, let’s say,” he added.

“I went into it with the approach that it’s not going to break my career but could potentially make it and I think it was a massive stepping stone to, I hope, a long future in F1 to come.

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“I was really grateful for the chance, obviously not in the circumstances I would have wished, but nevertheless with the short notice we had it gave me a chance to show what I can do from the front.

“We had the opportunity to win the race twice, but unfortunately it was taken away both times.

“You believe in yourself as a driver, but until you’re winning there’s always a small element of unknown. Just getting that chance definitely boosted my confidence.”

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