In December 2020, George Russell got the taste of going from one of the worst to the best car on the grid when he replaced Lewis Hamilton at the Sakhir GP, and he only failed to win the race through a combination of bad luck and an unusual pit stop error. from Mercedes. But from the first race of the 2022 season onwards, fighting for the top positions has everything to become habitual for him: after months of speculation, which only grew after his performance in Sakhir, Russell was confirmed by Mercedes as the starter alongside Hamilton next year.
In the announcement, made this Tuesday, there is no specification of the duration of the contract with the Briton. But it’s understood that it extends beyond the 2022 season. “It’s a special day for me personally and professionally, but also a day of mixed emotions,” Russell said. “I’m excited and honored to be joining Mercedes next year, which is a big step in my career, but it also means I’m going to say goodbye to my Williams teammates and friends. team and an honor to represent the Williams name in F1.”
“Looking ahead to the next season, I’d be lying if I said I’m not totally excited. It’s a big opportunity I want to grab with both hands. it should be about rewarding the trust Toto, the team and shareholders have placed in me, ensuring that I play my part in continuing that success and want to make my new teammates proud. Of course, one of those new teammates is, in my opinion , the greatest driver of all time. I’ve admired Lewis since I was in the kart and the opportunity to learn from someone who became a model on and off the track can only benefit me as a driver, as a professional and as a human being.”
Mercedes elects successor to Hamilton
Mercedes’ decision to promote the driver, whose career has been supported by the Germans since 2017, is loaded with meaning. First, it’s a clear bet that Russell will succeed to the greatest F1 winner of all time, as Hamilton is now 36 years old and has signed an extension to his contract until the end of 2023, when he is likely to retire.
Secondly, it is an internal defeat for Lewis to some extent, as he defended, even publicly, the permanence of Bottas. But Russell’s performances this year, especially in ratings, and his clear impatience with the delay in getting a promotion, have started to open up loopholes for Mercedes to end up losing its young driver. This helped Mercedes boss Toto Wolff to accept the risk of returning to a pair of drivers with a tougher relationship off-track and more competitive clashes inside it, as happened between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg between 2013 and 2016.
On Monday, Alfa Romeo had announced the hiring of current Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, and Hamilton used his social media to thank the five-year partnership, referring to the Finn as “the best companion I’ve ever had the pleasure to work”, highlighting the four constructors’ titles they won with Mercedes.
Red Bull’s growth can also be seen as another factor in the decision to bring in Russell, as both drivers’ points will be even more important for the constructors’ title if this trend is confirmed in 2022, when F1 will have new ones. cars, quite different from the current ones.
Not by chance, Wolff pointed out that the decision-making process is not easy. “It wasn’t a simple decision for us. Valtteri has done a fantastic job over the past five seasons and has made an essential contribution to our success and growth. a valuable weapon in our championship battle and propelled us to unprecedented success. He would have deserved to stay on the team, and I’m pleased that he was able to pick an exciting challenge with Alfa next year to continue his career at the level tallest in the sport. Looking ahead to 2022, we are delighted to confirm that George will have the opportunity to take the next step in his career and join Mercedes. He has been a winner in every category – and the last three seasons with Williams in the have given him a taste of what the future may hold for him in F1. Now it’s our challenge together to help him continue learning in our environment and alongside Lewis, the greatest F1 driver of all time. I am confident that as their relationship grows, they will form a strong team and bring results for Mercedes on and off the track for years to come. We took a load off our shoulders by announcing our plans for 2022; now, our focus is back on the last nine races of this season.”
As Wolff pointed out, it will be interesting to look at the dynamics between Hamilton, 36, and Russell, 23. When Lewis won the GP2 championship and was confirmed by McLaren the following year, having also been supported by Mercedes in his base career, George was playing his first go-kart championships.
Like Hamilton, Russell was champion in kart and youth (George won titles in F4, F3 and F2 before moving up to Williams in 2019). And this year, he finally got his first points with the English team, and even climbed to the podium in the atypical Belgian GP.