With George Russell, the Mercedes Formula 1 team rejuvenates

Since becoming teammates at Mercedes in 2017, Englishman Lewis Hamilton and Finnish Valtteri Bottas have formed one of the most successf...


Since becoming teammates at Mercedes in 2017, Englishman Lewis Hamilton and Finnish Valtteri Bottas have formed one of the most successful driving duos in the world. Formula 1 the story.

Together they have achieved 57 race victories and won four tag team championships for Mercedes. Hamilton has also won the drivers’ title every season they’ve raced together.

But their partnership will end in 2022, as Mercedes signed England’s George Russell, who is currently racing for Williams, to replace 32-year-old Bottas this year. This signals a big change for Mercedes.

“It’s pretty surreal, to be honest,” said Russell, 23, of the move. “I’ve been with Mercedes for so long now. I joined as a junior pilot and worked my way up the ranks.

“At Williams, Mercedes oversaw everything and managed me, so in a way I’m almost going back to where I started my journey to Formula 1.”

Mercedes first became interested in Russell when he asked to meet Toto Wolff, the team manager, at the age of 15 after winning a Formula 4 championship. meeting alone and dressed in a suit, before showing a PowerPoint presentation explaining why he could be a successful Mercedes driver in the future.

At the age of 18, Russell joined the Mercedes junior driver program before winning GP3 and Formula 2 titles, the categories below Formula 1.

Russell entered Formula 1 with Williams, which uses Mercedes engines, in 2019. The team finished last in the championship for their first two seasons as they struggled with an uncompetitive car. Russell didn’t score any points for Williams until this year’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

But Russell was acclaimed by his Formula 1 rivals as he consistently outperformed the Williams car. His performances were enough to convince Mercedes that it was time to trust him.

An unexpected opportunity to see what Russell could do in a Mercedes came during last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain. After Hamilton tested positive for Covid-19, Russell replaced him for the race.

Russell had not driven the Mercedes car and had to wear boots too small to fit into the Hamilton-designed cockpit, which is four inches shorter than Russell.

After qualifying second behind Bottas, Russell took the lead at the start of the Grand Prix and dominated before a team pit error brought him back to fifth place. He struggled to come back second, but a flat tire cost him time and he finished ninth.

The performance showed Russell’s potential, but the decision to sign him for 2022 was not an easy one for Mercedes. Wolff said Bottas had “been integral to the success of the team over the past five years”. Bottas will join Alfa Romeo’s Formula 1 team in 2022.

Wolff saw Russell’s signing as a chance to “rejuvenate the team by moving on to the next generation,” noting that many of the team’s rivals have young drivers in their rosters. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc are both 24 years old. McLaren has Lando Norris, who is 21 years old.

“You can see that in most of the other top teams there is a young driver with potential,” Wolff said. “We picked George to see how he can learn from Lewis. He has a lot of ability and talent. He is very ambitious. And when you look at his track record, he’s really one of the best of his generation.

Russell admired 36-year-old Hamilton as a child. Their first meeting was when Hamilton was invited to Russell’s go-kart race at the age of 11. He said meeting Hamilton was “like meeting a superhero” and helped him become a Formula 1 driver.

Hamilton said he thought “fresh blood” from Mercedes would be a good thing. “It will definitely energize the whole team knowing that they have a new kid who is super hungry, motivated and who will move the team forward,” he said.

Other Formula One drivers predicted Russell would be a greater threat to Hamilton than Bottas, who gave way to his teammate under the team’s instructions and scored just 10 of their 57 combined wins.

Hamilton’s championship rival Verstappen said Russell could “make it very difficult” for Hamilton next year. Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who drives for Alpine, said racing with Russell would be “definitely more difficult for Lewis than with Valtteri”.

Williams’ main team Jost Capito always hoped his driver would get the chance to join Mercedes. “He’s ready for it,” Capito said. “After three years at Williams and showing what he can do last year in the Mercedes, he deserves it.”

Capito said Russell has been a great team player for Williams. He was convinced that Russell could “more than challenge” Hamilton at Mercedes and fight for the championship next year.

“I’m sure George won’t be there to be No.2,” Capito added.

Mercedes faced their drivers for the championship from 2014 to 2016, when Hamilton’s teammate was Nico Rosberg. The two pilots crashed together on several occasions. Rosberg retired at the end of 2016 after winning the championship.

Wolff doubted that such friction would reoccur between Hamilton and Russell. “The situation with Nico and Lewis has been very influenced by a lot of history,” Wolff said. “We are better equipped, better prepared and a team with a very strong bond.

“We know what we have in Lewis and we always protect our relationship. George will fit in well. I have no doubts about it.

Mercedes has always made sure that its drivers have an equal chance of winning races and championships. Russell said it had been made clear that he would be “on the same level” with Hamilton next season. But he was also aware of the challenge he faced alongside a driver who won seven titles and 100 Grands Prix.

“I have no illusions about how difficult this is going to be,” said Russell. “We all know how strong Lewis is. In my opinion, he is probably the greatest rider of all time. He’s a seven-time world champion for a reason, so I’m in an incredibly lucky position to be able to go out there and learn from the best.

Russell hoped that the difficult times he went through with Williams early in his Formula 1 career would help him face future challenges.

“Jumping into a winning car that is really tuned and that the team is at the top of its game is in some ways pretty straightforward for the driver,” he said.

“No one goes through their entire career without difficulty. You’re always going to have to deal with it at some point.

Russell will not leave Williams without some success. Her contribution to the development of the team’s car has helped it become competitive this year, putting it on track for its best season since 2017 and in a stronger position for the future.

Williams scored his first podium in over four years at the Belgian Grand Prix in August thanks to Russell. His qualifying lap in wet conditions saw Russell start the Grand Prix in second, a position he occupied after the race was canceled after just two laps due to torrential rains.

“The guys here have worked so hard week after week to slowly improve the car throughout this period,” said Russell. “I will always remember that period now and say it was three difficult years, but we came away with a podium, a front row start and a Top 3 in qualifying.

“The team seems to be really taking a good step forward at the moment. I am sure they are on the right track.

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Newsrust - US Top News: With George Russell, the Mercedes Formula 1 team rejuvenates
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