The importance of simulator driving is not lost on 1996 Formula One world champion Damon Hill with George Russell the latest beneficiary on Mercedes debut at Sakhir.

Williams driver Russell replaced Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain after the seven-time world champion was forced to withdraw from the race after testing positive for Covid-19.

And the 22-year-old, highly-rated though inexperienced, showed the future of British motorsport is in safe hands with his confident showing in the sport’s top team.

Russell narrowly missed out on pole position to teammate Valtteri Bottas before taking the lead at the start of the race.

But double misfortune struck, first with his team putting the wrong tyres on his car before a puncture derailed his chances of victory.

Hill, who knows all about impressing early on in a career as he did with Williams in 1993, would certainly have been impressed with the Brit’s showing.

The world champion of 24 years ago is collaborating with Etihad Airways to produce 360-degree videos of Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit, with experiences such as those Russell had with a Mercedes simulator a key part of Formula One’s future.

“In our sport, there’s been a massive employment in virtual driving or, at the least, simulators, so that drivers can prepare themselves for where they’re going to go,” said Hill who, in the videos on the airline’s YouTube channel gives racing enthusiasts the opportunity to view the five spectator grandstands at Yas Marina Circuit – Main, North, West, South and the Marina - and win tickets to next year’s race.

“They don’t turn up anymore and have to learn the track, they actually learn in the simulator.

“It shows the potential of virtual environments. I don’t think they’ll ever replace the real experience of being there, and having a hands-on go in a real car, but they can certainly supplement and help us learn a lot to be able to prepare us.

“We’re trying to employ virtual experience of the grandstand here so that people get some feel of what it might be like to go there before they commit to going.

“That’s a very useful example of how virtual experiences will become the norm and part of our lives.”

The spectacular back drop to the end race of the Formula 1™ season in Abu Dhabi

Russell may yet get another chance to prove his credentials in the Championship-winning Mercedes car when the F1 season is rounded off in Abu Dhabi next weekend, should Hamilton not be available to race.

The Grand Prix, held at the Hermann Tilke-designed circuit on Yas Island, has been a mainstay on the F1 calendar since its introduction in 2009 to much fanfare.

The inaugural race held there was the sport’s first ever day-night race, a feature which has continued at the venue and also become more prominent in other locations since, while the track has played host to several world championship deciders down the years.

After an eventful campaign, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is set to bring the chequered flag down on the 2020 season in style and Hill believes the venue is the ideal setting to host F1’s finale.

Hillingdon Times: The Formula 1™ season ends at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with the Yas Marina Circuit a spectacular venueThe Formula 1™ season ends at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with the Yas Marina Circuit a spectacular venue

Hill added: “The Yas Marina circuit is quite unique in that it’s a purpose-built circuit, it’s also a purpose-built venue. It’s got a Marina – it’s called the Yas Marina – it’s surrounded by fantastic hotels.

“It comes alive when the Grand Prix is on with the light shows and the people who are there.

“It’s got restaurants, there’s a fantastic vibe at the circuit, and it’s in a part of Abu Dhabi where it’s supported by lots of other activities.

“There’s plenty to do in Abu Dhabi, it’s a great place for a holiday and a great place to go for a Grand Prix.

“You can guarantee it will be nice and warm in the day and, in the evening, as the sun goes down, which is when they have the race, you get this fantastic sunset and warm evening. It’s very enjoyable from that point of view.”

After watching the 360-degree videos of Yas Marina Circuit with Damon Hill, fans can win one of ten tickets to the Formula 1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2021 by visiting and voting for their favourite grandstand.