The 22-year-old Williams driver, who is effectively ‘on loan’ from Mercedes for a third consecutive season in 2021, has been hailed as a possible successor to Hamilton.
Promotion to a Mercedes drive is regarded as simply a matter of time for Russell, who stood in for Hamilton when the World Champion was suffering from COVID-19 at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix and performed brilliantly in a race he was robbed of winning.
Leading for most of the 87 laps, Russell was thwarted by the combination of a pit-stop blunder by the team and then a slow puncture to eventually finish ninth.
Hamilton and Fernando Alonso are among the drivers to have voiced public support for the credentials of Russell, who has tried to block that out as “background noise” to try and prevent himself from being distracted.
Russell is grateful for the support from such luminaries of his sport, but ultimately knows it is down to him alone to deliver and fulfil his potential.
“Lewis is a legend, obviously the greatest, and statistically he will be the greatest of all time by the end of this year, I’m sure,” said Russell of the 95-time F1 race winner in an interview with The Sportsman.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for him, for what he does on the track, how he deals with the engineers, and so my respect for him has grown tremendously in the last four years or so.
“To receive such high praise means a huge amount, but equally I don’t let it affect me because Lewis isn’t going to make a difference in my career.
“I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to go out there and perform on the track. It doesn’t matter if every single driver says I’m the greatest if you don’t perform. You do your talking on the track.”
Despite the crushing blow of having a potential win on his Mercedes bow taken away from him in such agonising circumstances in Bahrain, Russell still regards that weekend as a “massive stepping stone”.
“The weekend went as well as it could have done until it didn’t, let’s say,” he added.
“I went into it with the approach that it’s not going to break my career but could potentially make it and I think it was a massive stepping stone to, I hope, a long future in F1 to come.
“I was really grateful for the chance, obviously not in the circumstances I would have wished, but nevertheless with the short notice we had it gave me a chance to show what I can do from the front.
“We had the opportunity to win the race twice, but unfortunately it was taken away both times.
“You believe in yourself as a driver, but until you’re winning there’s always a small element of unknown. Just getting that chance definitely boosted my confidence.”