George Russell will finally wear the colors of Mercedes from the 2022 season of Formula 1 onwards. The most anticipated announcement of the year came this Tuesday (7), after an important piece of the board that makes up the grid fell into place. Valtteri Bottas signed with Alfa Romeo, which made room for the 23-year-old Englishman’s formalization in the Nordic position. Russell will also form a British duo with Lewis Hamilton in the German team in a partnership that naturally arouses high expectations. But George’s arrival represents more than that.
The truth is, Mercedes couldn’t avoid promoting its young prodigy. Russell’s career is managed by Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, and it was at the hands of the Brackley-based team that reached Formula 1 in 2019 to defend Williams after winning the GP3 (now Formula 3) and Formula 2 titles in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
It quickly became clear that there was something promising here. Even behind the wheel of an erratic car, George found his strong point in qualifying – these days, race pace is also a determining factor. While charming on Grove’s team, the young man also began to gain notoriety in the speech of the boss Toto Wolff. It seemed like a matter of time before fully integrating the star team’s garages.
But that time was long. Too long. That notion is reinforced by Russell’s impressive performance at Sakhir last year, when he was hurriedly called in to replace Hamilton, then beset by Covid-19. George behaved like a veteran: he didn’t show any nervousness or haste. On the contrary, he imposed himself and nearly nailed the pole. In the race, he was brilliant and outshone fellow Bottas. It just didn’t win because of an error by Mercedes itself. That exhibition should already guarantee the contract, but as the team had already renewed with the Finn, it also didn’t dare break the rules.
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It’s quite possible that Mercedes has regretted it, given Valtteri’s irregular start to the season, but Russell also ended up putting a question mark in Wolff’s mind: the bizarre accident with Bottas at the Emilia-Romagna GP made the Austrian think twice, especially due to the reactions of the Englishman, who did not spare criticism of his colleague, being publicly reprimanded by his boss.
Even so, Russell continued to make headlines as Toto bit and blew. Again, it was just a matter of time. But it took time. And Hamilton played a role in that screenplay as well. The seven-times champion campaigned for his teammate and insistently argued that Mercedes did not need a change. So, it’s not surprising to note that the squad has given a lot of thought to the question: whether to go with Bottas to please Lewis, or invest at once in what represents the future?
Speaking to Sky Sports F1, boss Wolff described the whole situation as “super difficult” and that “it’s probably the hardest decision I’ve had to make in all my years in Formula 1”. In the end, the Austrian opted for the future – rightly.
Although he remains the great leader of Mercedes and occupies, today, a place that goes far beyond driving, Hamilton is closer to the end of his career than to the beginning. It currently has a two-year contract and shouldn’t go much further. Mercedes wants Lewis to lead it under the new regulations, but other factors must be weighed: Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Alpine and, in a way, even AlphaTauri have already defined who will lead them from now on. And the star brand must do the same.
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As Hamilton rightly said, George is the future. And the sooner this future starts, the better – albeit with a delay, but in time to follow a path of success, shared with a seven-time champion. Which, incidentally, is one of the most extraordinary points that the 2022 season should provide.
Russell will land on a multi-champion team, which knows how to win and react to adversity. The pressure will therefore be enormous. But what will be really worth it is the dynamic between the two Englishmen. For the first time in his career, the seven-time champion will have to deal with a promising young man who arrives full of expectations – George is 13 years younger than the owner of the #44 car. While Lewis sees the boy as an “incredibly talented driver and one of the sport’s future guys,” the phrase that sums up the anticipation comes from Max Verstappen, who understands Russell “is going to make it harder” for Hamilton.
Time will tell. Only this time, it shouldn’t be long.