Mercedes junior driver George Russell has put himself 'on the radar' of rising Formula 1 talent with his début appearance at a Grand Prix weekend in Brazil.
The newly crowned GP3 champion was given the opportunity to drive Force India's VJM10 in Friday morning practice at Interlagos. He took over the seat usually occupied by regular driver Sergio Perez.
The 19-year-old from Kings Lynn completed 29 laps and set the 12th fastest time in the session. That put him quicker than the likes of Romain Grosjean, Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg.
He was half a second slower than the second Force India, which was in the hands of Esteban Ocon.
“Very impressed," reported Force India’s chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer. "First time in the car, he did a really good job.
"His feedback was good, he just didn’t really have enough time to start making some improvements on setup to his liking,” he told Reuters. "Had we been able to do that, I think he would have been two to three tenths off Esteban."
Szafnauer said that Russell had definitely made his mark and had a bright future ahead of him,
“He’s definitely on our radar," he said. "We’re definitely talking to him about doing some more with us next year.
”We’ll see how he goes in Abu Dhabi. But I expect he’ll be as good as here, if not better, because he’ll be used to the team and the car."
Russell himself was delighted by how the day had gone.
"That was probably the number one target - enjoy it," he told reporters afterwards. "It's Formula 1, what I have been working towards for a long time.
"It feels kind of normal at the moment," he continued. "But when I really thinking about it it's really surreal. I'm here in Brazil driving in a Formula 1 practice session!
"I feel good, I feel ready and this is where I want to be."
Russell also explained how the opportunity to take part in this weekend's free practice came about.
"After winning the GP3 title I was pushing Mercedes quite hard that I wanted to be given the opportunity," he said. "They arranged a meeting with Force India and it was looking quite positive.
"I was in Austin, the decision was meant to be made on the Sunday and it wasn't. It was then meant to be made in Mexico but it wasn't.
"I was getting a little bit worried then!
"Then I got a phone call around 7pm on the Tuesday after Mexico saying we are doing Brazil and Abu Dhabi, so that cheered me up. It was a bit of relief."