Opinion: F1 and WRC prodigies bring sportsmanship back to racing
George Russell and Elfyn Evans should be proud of how they handled themselves in the face of heartbreak
Results matter in motorsport, and winning is everything. Drivers are ultra-competitive by nature and developed with a narrow definition of success. As Ricky Bobby once said, “if you ain’t first, you’re last.”
It makes sense then, that drivers find losing hard – especially when victory is snatched away from within their grasp. And so they should: winning is their job, after all. But, as seen with a certain president, you can learn a lot about someone by how they handle disappointment.
In December, two British stars experienced the most crushing of disappointments.
On the verge of becoming just the third Brit to win the World Rally Championship, Elfyn Evans made a minor slip on Rally Monza, putting his Toyota Yaris WRC off the road and handing a seventh crown to his team-mate Sébastien Ogier.
And in Formula 1, Lewis Hamilton’s Covid-19 diagnosis resulted in George Russell trading his back-marking Williams for a title-winning Mercedes-AMG for the Sakhir Grand Prix. Handed this golden opportunity, he promptly outraced experienced team-mate Valtteri Bottas and dominated the race – until a tyre mix-up by the team dropped him down the order. He then battled back into contention for first, only for a puncture to end his hopes.
Both were crushingly cruel ways to lose, and both Evans and Russell could barely hide their emotions after. But both then showed their class and dignity in eloquent, heartfelt interviews, refusing to pass the blame or shirk responsibility. They were a credit to the sport.
Perhaps more importantly, while they didn’t win, the two demonstrated their undoubted talents at the highest levels.
Having covered Evans’s career since his first rally, I’ve been privileged to watch him grow into a world-class driver. But he took a huge step this year, transforming from a solid runner into someone capable of battling for wins against anyone. He was Ogier’s equal, challenging him like few of his team-mates ever have. One slip on one snow-covered stage doesn’t change that.
Russell’s talent has long been clear to those who saw him in lower formulae or saw how he extracted everything from a slow Williams in the past two years. He clearly has grand prix-winning talent, but there are many drivers can’t realise that talent when given the chance to do so. Russell jumped into a largely unfamiliar car on short notice and delivered a complete performance.
So while both were left disappointed, neither should be ashamed. They demonstrated the talent that should endure they taste plenty of success in the future. They deserve to.
Evans will be back in his Yaris WRC when the 2021 season starts in Monte Carlo next month, giving him a quick chance to atone for his disappointment. Russell’s immediate future is uncertain, but if or when a seat becomes available at Mercedes, surely he’s now front of the line. He’s still only 22, and the world knows he will be ready when another chance does come.
And if not? Well, winning isn’t really everything, is it? After all, Sir Stirling Moss never won an F1 title…
*BMW to quit Formula E at the end of 2020/21 *
*Stairway to Evans: how Welshman Elfyn is on the verge of WRC glory *
*F1 2021: Schumacher secures Haas seat for 2021*