George Russell completes journey from Lewis Hamilton super-fan to Mercedes teammate with F1 promotion

George Russell will partner Lewis Hamilton from 2022

At long last, the worst-kept secret in Formula 1 has finally been confirmed. George Russell will join Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next season, with the 23-year-old set to line up alongside the driver he has idolised from a young age.

While Hamilton was winning his maiden world championship in 2008, Russell was making a name for himself racing go-karts, no doubt imagining that he was flying around the outside of Timo Glock on the final lap of the season at Interlagos. Pictures have since emerged of Russell meeting his hero at around that time, with the 10-year-old from King’s Lynn wide-eyed and he stood next to the man who would become not only F1’s most successful driver, but also his future teammate.

There is, certainly, an element of romance to Russell’s journey and the position he now finds himself in after replacing the Alfa Romeo-bound Valtteri Bottas, but the decision from Mercedes is not one based on emotion. Hamilton described Bottas as the “best teammate” he’s ever had, with Britain’s greatest ever driver winning four of his seven world championships alongside the Finn, which speaks to the fact that Mercedes view Russell’s promotion as a move for the present, as well as the future, in their battle with Red Bull for F1 supremacy.

Now into his third season with Williams, Russell has consistently punched above his weight in the least-competitive car on the F1 grid. He out-qualified his team-mate in every race of the season in both 2019 and 2020 and routinely put Williams in the position to battle for points it had no right to contend for with a number of bold and impressive drives. Although his maiden points in Formula 1 eluded him over those two campaigns, often through no fault of his own, it was clear the Englishman belonged on this stage.

When Russell replaced Hamilton for the Sakhir Grand Prix when the world champion contracted Covid-19 at the tail-end of last season, he further underlined his pedigree as he out-qualified and then out-raced Bottas on his debut appearance for Mercedes. That result, in particular, felt symbolic of the direction of the two drivers, and Russell was only denied the first points of his F1 career when Mercedes made a mess of a late pit-stop due to a technical fault, before he cruelly suffered a puncture in the closing stages of the race.

George Russell impressed when he stood in for Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain

“It is not going to be his last attempt to win a race,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff, in a further indication of the future role that seemingly awaited Russell within the team. “It is just the beginning of a fairytale that didn’t work out today, but I would say that a new star is born.”

As Wolff and Mercedes continued to make eyes at Russell heading into the 2021 season, the temperature was tested following a high-speed collision between the young driver and Bottas at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in April. Russell accused Bottas of deliberately causing the crash and appeared to suggest that the Finn would have behaved differently to another driver, as the tension that surrounded both of their futures briefly spilled over.

It is to the credit of all sides that the incident was quickly left in the past. Russell avoided the chaos of the Hungarian Grand Prix to pick up his first points in F1 before he delivered the most impressive performance of his career in putting his Williams on the front-row in Belgium, in one of the most memorable qualifying displays of the modern era at a rain-hit Spa Francorchamps.

George Russell earned his first-ever podium position in Belgium thanks to his stunning qualifying performance

Russell’s second-place finish came after a two-lap procession, as the weather took away his opportunity to earn the result outright, but the non-event of race day ensured that his qualifying performance remained the standout memory from Spa. It was the first time the 23-year-old had competed alongside the likes of Hamilton at the front-end of the grid, and now we know that it will not be the last.

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After Russell completes his third and final season with Williams, his attention will turn to the task at hand. “I’m under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge; it’s going to be a steep learning curve,” he admitted. Indeed, Bottas, despite the struggles of his past year, has set a high bar for Russell to follow and Hamilton will demand for those standards to be matched from the opening weekend in 2022. He has certainly come a long way from hunting for Hamilton’s autograph as a young fan, but Russell has earned his opportunity to make the next step.

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