GRAND PRIX DEBUT: Russell ready to jump into Formula One

George Russell.
George Russell.
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Former Wisbech Grammar School pupil George Russell has set his sights on a full-time Forumla One drive after making his grand prix debut in Brazil.

Russell, a 19-year-old from Tydd St Giles, finished 12th in opening practice as he deputised for Force India’s Sergio Perez.

George Russell in action in Brazil.

George Russell in action in Brazil.

The Englishman, who won this year’s GP3 championship with one round to spare, was given just eight days’ notice that he would be taking part in the first session at Interlagos. Russell is a member of Mercedes’ junior programme, and Force India are powered by the German manufacturer.

He finished 1.8 seconds adrift of pacesetter Lewis Hamilton and a little more than half-a-second adrift of Esteban Ocon in the other Force India.

Williams and Sauber are the only teams yet to announce their driver line-up for 2018, and while it is unlikely either will opt for Russell - who is set to compete in Formula Two, F1’s feeder championship, next season - the Briton is still hopeful he could yet be on the grid.

“I feel ready for an F1 seat next season,” Russell said. “I wanted to do this test because, as we have seen in F1, anything can happen.

“Let’s say in January, if something did happen, I can now say I am the man to jump in, and that I am ready to make the step up.

“My end goal is to be a Formula One world champion. Formula One is what I have been working towards for a long time.

“It feels normal at the moment, but when I really think about it, it is pretty surreal that I am here in Brazil, driving in an F1 practice session. I feel good, I feel ready and this is where I want to be in the future.”

Like Russell, Ocon is also on Mercedes’ books and he has impressed in his first full season alongside Perez at Force India. Indeed the Frenchman, 21, recently set a new record for the most consecutive finishes since debut.

Russell, who will take part in opening practice at the concluding race in Abu Dhabi later this month, wants to race at Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes team, but believes Force India will be the perfect setting to ply his trade.

“Realistically Mercedes are not going to put one of their junior drivers into a seat,” Russell added. “Force India is a good place for me to learn - as Ocon is doing now - and maybe one day we can progress into the main Mercedes team.

“Today was a huge step up, but I have prepared really well. I have done a lot of days on the simulator at Mercedes. I have done four days of Formula One testing and this was the next step.

“I did not know the circuit or the car, so I just wanted to learn as much as I could to take to Abu Dhabi. I can now go to Abu Dhabi and there will be fewer excuses.”