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George Russell

Russell reveals how DTM offer nearly prevented Mercedes F1 career

George Russell might be racing for Mercedes in the 2022 F1 season, but the Briton has explained how his career nearly took a different path when he received an offer to race in DTM with BMW.

Russell Zandvoort
To news overview © Williams

George Russell has revealed how an offer to race in DTM nearly led to his F1 career with Mercedes potentially not happening.

Back in 2015, Russell turned down a European F3 sponsorship offer from the Silver Arrows' Team Principal, Toto Wolff, and instead opted to drive for the Volkswagen-powered Carlin team.

Then, later in the year, the Briton received an offer to compete in DTM with BMW, and this led to Mercedes coming back into the picture.

"I did a test with BMW in December in Jerez," Russell told the Motor Sport Magazine Podcast.

"They sent one of their factory drivers from DTM as the reference driver, and we ended up being faster than the reference.

"Mercedes were doing a rookie test with their factory driver and their chosen rookies, Audi were there doing a test as well. I remember [Antonio] Giovinazzi was doing that test back in 2015.

"Everybody could see the times by the end of that day, it wasn’t public but privately you could see that we were the fastest time of the day.

"There was an engineer who had shifted from BMW to Mercedes, and I think, potentially, he was quite influential, saying, 'This guy was very fast and you need to sign him before BMW do.'

"So 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 in January 2016. 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."

Ultimatum from Mercedes on F1 future

Russell was then presented with an ultimatum from Mercedes, forcing him to decide between the two options whilst still at an early stage in his junior career.

"It was absolutely clear from Mercedes. They said, 'If you sign with BMW, there won't be an option with Mercedes in the future,'" the former Williams driver said.

"So the deal on the table from Mercedes was [to] race in Formula 3 for one more year with a Mercedes-backed team, which was Hitech, and come and do all of the simulator work for Mercedes F1: 'We'll see how you get on, see how you're performing on track, how you're performing off track, and we'll make a decision in October.'

"'There's a chance we might not take you, but a chance we will take you. But if you sign the BMW contract, we're out.'

"So I've got this contract on the table from BMW, which is to go and race DTM, which at the time was probably the best championship after Formula 1. I was a 16-year-old at the time, 16/17 years old, with a lot of money on the table, and it was all quite shocking. It all came so sudden. I've done this test that went incredibly well, [and] the contract's on the table three days later."

"If it didn't work out I'd potentially be regretting it"

With a decision needing to be made, Russell ultimately chose to take a chance on Mercedes, which ultimately paid off.

"I've not really had any communications with F1 teams, and the conversations with Toto are positive, but not too sure if it's going to lead to something but this is on the table now, and a decision needed to be taken," he said.

"Suddenly Mercedes pick up the phone, but they weren't offering anything concrete, it was, 'You’ve got to take a chance.'

"They might turn around and say, 'I'm sorry.' But then the BMW door is closed as well. But the big difference is this is Mercedes and that was Formula 1, and BMW was DTM. I was a 17-year-old and you had to take that risk. I guess if it didn't work out I'd potentially be regretting it, but it worked out."

Russell became a part of the Mercedes Young Driver Programme in 2017, and will now race for them in F1 alongside Lewis Hamilton in 2022.

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