Williams regular Russell was drafted in by parent team Mercedes for the second race in Bahrain last December after Lewis Hamilton was ruled out following a positive test for COVID-19.
Russell qualified second and dominated the majority of the race on the Bahrain International Circuit’s outer loop, only for a tyre mix-up by Mercedes and a late puncture to deny him a possible victory. He ultimately finished the race ninth, nevertheless marking his maiden F1 points.
Russell returned to Williams for the next race in Abu Dhabi, and is embarking on his third full season with the team in 2021, with his contract set to expire at the end of the season.
Asked what his stunning display at the Sakhir race changed for him, Russell said he “learned a lot of things from that experience”, giving him greater confidence and belief in his own ability after being handed a front-running car.
“What was very interesting for me was I qualified second, which was my best qualifying ever – I think previously it was 12th – and I was disappointed not to be on pole,” said Russell. “Just because you’re suddenly at the front of a grid, it doesn’t change that goal, that satisfaction you get by getting the absolute most out of your equipment.
“Equally coming away from that event, I had a few tough days. But equally I put it behind me, I learned from it. I was very grateful to Mercedes and Williams for giving me the chance, and ultimately I had to see that race as a victory in itself, even if I didn’t get the trophy at the end of the day.
“[I am] then coming into the season with more confidence and belief in myself, and that’s great for me, great for the team and great for everyone. So yeah, it was a good opportunity.”
Mercedes opted to pass over designated reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne in order to draft in Russell as Hamilton’s replacement for the Sakhir race.
The team has announced Vandoorne and Mercedes Formula E teammate Nyck de Vries will share the F1 reserve role in 2021, while it is also in talks with Nico Hulkenberg about serving as additional back-up.
But Russell was not drawn when he asked how these appointments could impact on a possible repeat of his stand-in appearance for Mercedes in 2021.
“I mean nothing official has been decided,” said Russell. “Obviously that was all arranged very last minute for us last year.
“They need to be prepared because these things can happen on a Friday night, for another driver to be able to do the race, but I think we’ll just cross that bridge when we get there.”