After a day of our wondering who would fill Lewis Hamilton’s vacant seat in the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 car this coming weekend in Bahrain, the racing team delivered an answer Wednesday morning: It’ll be none other than George Russell.
The 22-year-old British driver has been called up to fill in for Hamilton, the seven-time world champion who this week tested positive for COVID-19, in what will surely be one of his biggest opportunities to prove himself. Russell normally drives for the Williams Racing team, but he is part of the Mercedes junior program and is tipped to eventually compete for Mercedes full-time should Hamilton retire or if the team parts ways with Valtteri Bottas.
The upcoming Sakhir Grand Prix will give Mercedes the ideal opportunity to evaluate Russell’s performance in a chassis that’s actually competitive, unlike the Williams FW43 we’re used to seeing him in.
For Mercedes, getting Russell into Hamilton’s seat wasn’t as simple as moving pawns, though. The reigning world constructors’ champions had to broker a deal with Williams to steal their driver for a weekend (possibly two, if Hamilton fails another COVID-19 test before next weekend’s season finale in Abu Dhabi). Williams also had to settle on a replacement for Russell, who it eventually found in reserve driver Jack Aitken.
Russell had this to say following the announcement:
Firstly, I want to say a huge thank you to everybody at Williams for giving me this opportunity. I might be wearing a different race suit this weekend, but I’m a Williams driver and I’ll be cheering my team on every step of the way.
I see this as a great chance to learn from the best outfit on the grid right now and to come back as an improved driver, with even more energy and experience to help push Williams further up the grid. A big thank you also to Mercedes for putting their faith in me.
Russell has no points to his name in his 36 starts and almost two full seasons in Formula 1. In that time he’s driven solely for Williams; the struggling team has scored only one point since 2019, earned by Robert Kubica in the turbulent German Grand Prix last year.
Russell’s Mercedes guest appearance wasn’t the only big F1 personnel news to break Wednesday morning, as Haas formally announced both of its drivers for the 2021 season: Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. Schumacher had long been expected to join either Alfa Romeo or Haas for next year, but when Alfa Romeo confirmed its plans to stick with Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi, Haas was left as the only Ferrari-powered team for the Maranello-backed driver to go to.