Force India eyes long-term role for Russell

George Russell, Force India, Brazilian Grand Prix FP1
© XPB 

Force India is set to confirm GP3 champion George Russell as their test and reserve driver for 2018 before the end of the year.

The 19-year-old driver made his Formula 1 Grand Prix race weekend début last weekend in Brazil. He completed 29 laps in the first free practice session on Friday morning, sitting in for regular driver Sergio Perez.

Force India’s chief operating officer Otmar Szafnauer said the team was very impressed with Russell's first time in the car. "We’re definitely talking to him about doing some more with us next year."

Deputy team principal Bob Fernley predicted that Russell could take over from Alfonso Celis Jr. as the team's development driver in 2018.

"I don't see any reason why not," Fernley told Autosport magazine this week. "His performance at the weekend was excellent, he settled in very nicely.

"He had never been to the track in Brazil and never driven the car before," he pointed out. "We're now taking him to Abu Dhabi where he's done both, and that will be an interesting assessment for him."

Russell joined the Mercedes young driver programme at the start of 2017. Current Force India driver Esteban Ocon had a similar route into Formula 1, making comparisons between the two drivers inevitable.

"We've been very lucky with both Esteban and now possibly George," said Fernley. "George is a very confident young man. Self-assured, confident, charming - a bit like Esteban in many ways."

Force India enjoys a good relationship with Mercedes, who supply them with power units. It made the team a natural berth for Ocon in 2017, and Fernley said he hoped for the same arrangement to develop Russell's career.

But he said that the team was only interested in a long-term arrangement that benefitted all parties.

"They happen to have a driver that is under contract," he explained. "It fits in with our programme, and it fits in with theirs.

"It's a win-win for Mercedes and ourselves. The same thing happened with Esteban," he said. "The main thing is to make sure the availability is there longer term. It's not a short term thing."

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