A steely glint enters Mercedes driver George Russell’s eyes when Motorsport.com broaches the subject: does he make too many mistakes when the pressure is on to win Formula 1 races?

It’s raining outside – the Barcelona paddock doused all day. Russell himself is a mix of dark and light: a huge black Mercedes overcoat sits above equally massive, marque-monogrammed white trousers.

After he answers, the rain will clear – never to return that weekend in Spain. Russell will banish the memories of his two place-costing Canadian Grand Prix offs and clash with Oscar Piastri, after leading the early stages from pole. He’ll have a starring drive in the Spanish race, taking a shock lead, battling leaders Max Verstappen and Lando Norris hard, then engaging team-mate Lewis Hamilton in a gripping intra-Mercedes contest.

He’ll lose but does so with aplomb. Next time out in Austria, he’ll be in the perfect position to capitalise when Verstappen and Norris collide – a second GP win collected.

“I have no need to respond to those people [who say I crack under pressure],” Russell begins, before doing exactly that. “Because I’m focused on my own job. I could drive one tenth off the pace for 70 laps in a row and I wouldn’t make a single mistake.

“[In] 2022 I didn’t make a single mistake in the whole season, but I wasn’t pushing myself the way I’m pushing myself now. And the way I’m pushing myself now has allowed me to out-qualify my team-mate eight times out of nine races this season [it’s 9-2 in GP qualifying only post-Austria] and allow me to be ahead of him in most of these races.

“I could drive one tenth off the pace, not make a single mistake, and still finish third [in Canada], and it looks like a flawless race from the outside. But knowing within I had a tenth on the table, I’d be kicking myself for not pushing myself to the limit.

“So, people can say what they want. I’m pushing myself above and beyond. And maybe overstretched slightly because I’m trying to…”

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR24

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR24

Russell tails off. At this point, it’s worth remembering how in what was a very consistent 2022 campaign overall, he did biff Valtteri Bottas and Mick Schumacher on his way to 14th in Singapore that year and his part in the dramatic start crash at Silverstone. Plus, in the context of the topic of the day, Singapore 2023 must be highlighted as another potential victory shot ending in an error.

This is given how the Mercedes pair were bearing down on eventual winner Carlos Sainz and Norris on that occasion. Russell’s failure to pass the latter even before he crashed on the final lap was a key part in why many F1 observers were left wondering if Hamilton might’ve won had he been the leading Silver Arrows driver that day.

But, back to Russell answering his critics: “It feels like [I’ve had] three opportunities in 115 races to score victory. And trying to achieve that in the moment, as when I was a kid, racing in F2, F3, GP3, everything else, when I won championships, I just took the result that was on the table.

“If it’s a win today, take the win, if it’s a P3, take the P3. If I was in P3, I wasn’t overdriving to try and achieve that victory as I knew to win a championship I just needed to get the points.

“So yeah, mistakes happen, it’s life. We’ve all been through times where these mistakes happen, but they happen as I’m pushing myself above and beyond, and I think I’m in that position as I’m driving better than ever.”

That has resulted in a 11-3 qualifying record [sprints and all in 2024] against Hamilton in qualifying and a 26-point standings lead. Impressive, against a driver with 104 poles.

But what has stood out this season is how Russell has been able to either raise his game when it matters in qualifying, or at least maintain it better against the W15’s knife-edge handling characteristics on the tricky Pirelli tyres.

Does he therefore take satisfaction from his record against his illustrious team-mate in 2024?

“Yeah, I know that if this was a different era I’d probably have eight poles to my name this season and a number of wins,” he replies, the steely determination having now made its way to Russell’s voice.

“I’ve never not had faith or satisfaction in myself. And maybe my driving at races would be slightly different if I was fighting for a championship over one race victory maybe in a season.

“That one race in Canada I was pushing way beyond my limits as I felt this was one shot at victory, whereas if I was in a championship fight against Max I’d probably have said, ‘P2 is the result today’.

“I accept that. And I need to dial down the risk/reward [ratio] of how hard I’m driving. Whereas, at the moment in the race, that dial is turned up all the way because I want to get a [another] victory to my name.

“That’s the mentality I’m in at the moment. To be honest, I don’t enjoy driving like that as I’d rather be more consistent like I was in 2022. But six years in [F1], I don’t take the satisfaction from consistently finishing just in the top five.

“In 2022, I finished in the top five more than any single driver on the grid [Russell scored the equal most points finishes that year with Verstappen and Sergio Perez, with 20], but I’d prefer finishing P6 every race and having two victories rather than finishing P5, P4, P3 every race and not get the race victory.

“I hope that mentality can change next year, if we have a car that can fight for the championship.”

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W15

Specifically on that Canada race, Russell reckons, “I was a bit hard on myself. When I looked at the race as a whole, everyone made mistakes at certain points.

“Max went off at Turn 1, lost three seconds,” Russell adds. “[He] went off again at Turn 3 when Logan [Sargeant] crashed, but the safety car came out. Lando went off at Turn 1.

“Obviously, I had my off when I was ahead of Lando, which was 10cm mistake. The lap before I was next to the white line, that lap I was 10cm over. A small mistake, slightly bigger consequences. The biggest one was with Piastri, not getting the overtake done [at the final chicane where the pair made light contact].

“But I came away thinking of course I could have done differently, but had I won that race and Lando didn’t he’d be saying the same. Or if I won the race and Max didn’t, he’d be saying, ‘about this mistake there and this mistake here’.

“It was just one of those races where you had to be there at the end on the right tyre to achieve it and I think realistically in that race without safety cars Lando would have won that race.

“He got the [tyre] pressures right. I probably made the error of pumping my tyres up on the grid because it was raining and we thought more rain would come in 20 minutes. But it came in 40 minutes and that’s why we were so quick at the beginning but then dropped off like a stone afterwards.

“I think Max did something similar as we sort of both followed one another’s pace. He could also argue that was a big, missed opportunity for him. It’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.”

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, 1st position, celebrates on arrival in Parc Ferme

George Russell, Mercedes-AMG F1 Team, 1st position, celebrates on arrival in Parc Ferme

Right now, with Mercedes not in title contention for the third year in a row, Russell is heading to the race where he’ll face the biggest pressure of all: the British GP.

Home races raise expectations, even with the high-speed nature of the Silverstone less likely to boost the W15 compared to the RB20 or MCL38, as Barcelona showed. But the Austria outcome is still fresh in F1’s hive mind.

Win or lose, rain or shine, Russell’s resolve is clear. Mistakes happen at the limit, but he’s got one striking answer to those who say he cracks under pressure. And it all goes back to a time before he was a Mercedes regular and his one-off race as Hamilton’s replacement due to the seven-time world champion contracting COVID.

“I think in my career so far in F1 I’ve had three shots at victory,” he explains. “Which was probably Bahrain 2020, which should have been a victory, that was outside of my control. Brazil [2022], and then Montreal.

“If I count Bahrain as a victory, I think I’m there to take those moments as they come.”