Wisbech racer George Russell put in a breakthrough performance to claim his first Formula Renault ALPS podium at the dramatic Red Bull Ring circuit in the Austrian mountains.

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The 16-year-old took second place in the opening race and fifth in the second to maintain his third spot in the championship standings in his first season of car racing.

But it could have been even better for Russell as a very marginal decision from the officials denied him a double pole position, which could have set up two wins.

Russell, who also leads the BRDC Formula 4 Championship with three victories, put in a stellar performance in qualifying to beat McLaren Formula One protégé Nyck de Vries – his team-mate in the Koiranen GP stable and in his third year of Formula Renault – by a clear three tenths of a second.

But his best time was taken away because he was adjudged to have breached track limits at a downhill turn. “The stewards said I was outside the white line at the edge of the track by less than a centimetre,” said Russell.

“My speed was exactly the same through there as on my other quick laps so I certainly didn’t gain an advantage, and instead of starting on pole it meant I was second for race one and fourth for race two.”

In Saturday’s race, Russell had to defend from de Vries into second turn on the opening lap and his tight line meant the Dutchman got ahead on the exit. But he fought back and pulled off a beautiful move at the same spot with two laps remaining to reclaim second place.

“I lunged him from a fair distance so I was pretty happy with that one,” said Russell. “The last two laps I was able to get a bit of a gap even though I didn’t push that much because I wanted to stay within track limits, so the lap times didn’t show the speed I was capable of.”

A great start put Russell into third for Sunday’s race and he went to challenge for second into turn two. But he ran wide and lost two positions down to the next corner, dropping to fifth.

“From this point on the leading quintet stayed close, with Russell trying moves on de Vries, and then Charles Leclerc, as the leaders took it in turns to set fastest laps.

“It was a shame about the first lap,” he said. “I went in too deep at turn two and got onto the Astroturf on the outside, and that cost me two places.”

He added: “I got squeezed onto the grass at one point later in the race, but I had good pace from the middle of the race.”

Russell is now focused on the next round, at the Belgian circuit of Spa-Francorchamps on the weekend of June 7-8.

“Apart from the podium, I’ve got a lot of positives to take away from the Red Bull Ring,” he said. “I had great speed and it could so easily have been at least one win.”

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