No points but Russell has high hopes with Williams in 2020

Abu Dhabi (AFP) –


George Russell completed his rookie season in Formula One on Sunday as the only driver without a point, but with his reputation enhanced during a character-building year with former champions Williams.

The 21-year-old Briton, who on Saturday completed a 21-0 whitewash of team-mate Robert Kubica in their qualifying contests for the year, finished 17th in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

For a Williams driver, in another season of frustration and disappointment, it was a small victory as he and his team looked ahead to ending their slump in 2020.

"I felt so sick on Thursday, I wasn't sure I would be able to drive, but I got through it," said Russell.

"I was OK for the race, but I made a bad start and didn't really get my elbows out enough and then I was overtaken by Robert.

"Then, I got back and it was alright. Next year, I have to improve my starts and my aggression -– and I hope we have a lot more down-force —- so we can show what we can do."

An under-performing car undermined the team for the whole season with Poland's Kubica struggling to match Russell, albeit he scored the team's solitary point of the year at a rain-hit German Grand Prix.

Next season, Kubica will be replaced by Canadian Nicholas Latifi as Williams gear up in hope of starting a return to their halcyon days of the 1990s with Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.

The now-struggling Grove-based team have not won a race since 2012, but have won 114 Grands Prix since joining F1 in 1972 and they are determined to recover their status.

Rivals McLaren, against whom they battled for teams and drivers titles in their glory days, showed this season that after a spell in the doldrums it is possible to recover as Carlos Sainz and British rookie Lando Norris demonstrated.

The team have faith in the Kings Lynn-born Russell's potential –- he was Formula Two champion in 2018 –- and plan to build around him next year.

"We have spent time with George to make sure he understands all the subtleties of how you can set up an F1 car for a particular circuit, for qualifying and the race," said race engineer Dave Robson.

"He's got a phenomenal understanding of how the car works and what he wants from it. Now, he has to marry that up to the complexity of the set-up. He will be much stronger next year."

Russell is a Mercedes academy graduate and retains close links with the Silver Arrows.

He is set to test for Mercedes in the post-season sessions in Abu Dhabi next week, but Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he was not auditioning for a future race seat with the team.

"I've said to George, who was not 100 per cent these last days, that this test is not bench-marking him because we are absolutely certain that he has the qualities of a potential future Mercedes driver," said Wolff.

"He has the raw speed. He has the talent and he has the intelligence. There's a reason why he's won F3 and F2 titles as a rookie.

"That hasn't been done many times before and he has a flawless record in F1.

"It is more about the experience. So there's nothing to prove during these upcoming tests. George is under contract with Williams and we will always honour all contracts because they have given him the chance to step into F1."