George Russell says the Austrian Grand Prix was “the first time I really battled with anybody” in Formula 1 after an intense fight Fernando Alonso felt “a bit sad” to have.
Russell’s bid to score his first point for Williams and the team’s first since 2019 came down to a tense duel with Alonso’s Alpine over 10th.
Two-time F1 world champion Alonso thought he should have qualified in the top five but was knocked out of Q2 after being impeded and was therefore recovering from 14th-place start, while Russell was attempting to hang on to a place he’d earned through an impressive Saturday performance.
Russell led Alonso for 17 laps in the final part of the grand prix after being overtaken by recovering two-stopper Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri.
The two-second gap was cut immediately but Alonso hovered outside of DRS range for seven laps, then got within a second of Russell and stayed there for 10 laps.
Russell fought valiantly to fend him off, usually staying clear enough to avoid defending at all into Turn 3 and focusing all his efforts in keeping Alonso behind in the third DRS zone on the run downhill to Turn 4.
But eventually Russell’s resistance was broken and Alonso swept past on that very straight before easing almost six seconds clear in four laps, a marker of just how much extra performance the Alpine driver had.
Alonso even admitted afterwards that he “was hoping it would be anyone but him” and “felt a little bit sad” that the battle would be with Russell, knowing what losing 10th would mean to him.
But Russell said he “not that disheartened” in the end, admitting that Alonso and Alpine were simply faster.
“I’ve been in F1 for three years now but that was the first time I really battled with anybody,” Russell said.
“I had a couple of overtakes, but I’ve never had a wheel-to-wheel battle. Pleased that I held my own, didn’t do anything crazy or silly. And for what it was worth, it was quite good fun.
“If you could choose anybody to have behind you in that situation, you wouldn’t choose Fernando. He didn’t make it easy.
“It’s sort of reminded me of my junior days, when you’re battling wheel-to-wheel week in, week out.
“I guess the biggest thing was just the experience. Getting that feeling, doing it in a Formula 1 car, it’s very different, with all the downforce, dirty air. Just getting that experience.
“It feels a bit strange that I’ve been here for three years now and haven’t had that many battles.”
Russell started eighth, on the medium tyre, something he called an “amazing” position to be in after progressing to Q3 without needing to use the softs in Q2.
But he lost track position on the opening lap when a “jolt” right from Yuki Tsunoda on the run to Turn 1 forced him to defend up the hill to Turn 3, where he was tentative under braking on the inside line.
That kept him off-line down to Turn 4 as well and ultimately compromised him for the first half a lap, allowing other cars to pass him on the outside and benefit from the tow from the line of cars Russell was not part of.
He dropped to 12th as a result, but felt that was “a shame but the guys who got ahead were the guys who would’ve finished ahead”.
Williams’s one-stop strategy allowed him to move back into 10th ahead of the two-stopping Aston Martins, before succumbing to Alonso late on.
“It was a really tricky race,” Russell said. “I did everything I could. Ultimately, the speed Fernando had, he was always going to catch, he was absolutely flying.
“I guess P11 was the maximum.
“Ultimately you get what you deserve, and those guys were faster than us.
“We did a great job over one lap, but they were inherently that bit faster than us, and were always going to come through.”