The Formula 1 paddock’s worst-kept secret is finally out of the bag with Mercedes formally announcing that George Russell will move up to the team for the 2022 season, partnering Lewis Hamilton.
The British driver has signed a long-term contract with the team, in contrast to the outgoing Valtteri Bottas, who made do with a succession of single-year deals.
Yesterday Alfa Romeo confirmed it had signed a multi-year deal with Bottas for next season and beyond, paving the way for Mercedes to make the Russell announcement.
Mercedes had made it clear for some time that the drive was between the outgoing Bottas and Russell. With the latter’s future finally confirmed, it leaves few remaining seats that are unknown for next season.
Ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix, Russell said he was hoping to test himself against Hamilton next season as rumours swirled that he finally put pen to paper to seal the deal over the race weekend.
“Looking ahead to next season, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely buzzing,” said Russell. “It’s a huge opportunity and one I want to grab with both hands.
“But I’m under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge; it’s going to be a steep learning curve. Valtteri has set a high bar, consistently delivering week in and week out. My target must be to reward the trust that Toto, the team, and the board have placed in me by ensuring I play my part in continuing that success and I want to do my new team-mates proud.
“Of course, one of those new team-mates is in my opinion the greatest driver of all time. I’ve looked up to Lewis since I was in go-karts and the opportunity to learn from someone who has become a role model both on and off track can only benefit me as a driver, a professional, and a human being.”
Russell said that he had “mixed emotions” about the move. “I’m excited and humbled to be joining Mercedes next year, which is a huge career step, but it also means I’ll be saying goodbye to my team-mates and friends at Williams,” he said.
“It has been an honour working alongside every member of the team, and an honour to represent the Williams name in F1. No matter how tough it’s been, nobody has ever given up, and that has inspired me every day. I’ve loved every moment in what I’d describe as a true heart and soul racing team. For now, I have nine more races as a Williams driver, and I want to make sure they are the best nine of my time with the team.”
Russell has been a part of Mercedes’ young driver programme since signing in 2017, ahead of his championship-winning GP3 campaign. He then graduated to Formula 2 the following season and won that championship too against Lando Norris and Alexander Albon.
His graduation to F1 was complete in 2019, signing with Williams to race alongside Robert Kubica in a difficult season for the team. While there have been glimpses of his potential at the team since his maiden season, the lack of competitive machinery has hampered his ability to impress.
That changed last season though when Russell was a last-minute replacement for future team-mate Hamilton after the reigning world champion tested positive for Covid-19 ahead of the Sakhir Grand Prix.
“This hasn’t been an easy process or a straightforward decision for us”
Russell couldn’t fit properly in the Mercedes W11 but narrowly missed out on out-qualifying Bottas at his first attempt and was hit with major misfortune in the race to prevent his maiden F1 victory under the floodlights.
This season, Russell has impressed in qualifying and earned the moniker ‘Mr Saturday’. His recent Belgian Grand Prix qualifying effort in the torrential conditions earned him P2 on the grid alongside Verstappen and ahead of Hamilton in the works Mercedes. Unraceable conditions on Sunday meant he finally earned his first F1 points with Williams.
Since then, Hamilton has complimented his future team-mate and said he would look forward to the challenge of having a younger driver that is part of the next generation alongside him. Others such as Verstappen and Charles Leclerc also said they felt Russell was overdue a competitive drive and deserved the seat at Mercedes.
Speculation over next year’s Mercedes line-up has been growing at the start of the year and team principal Toto Wolff said that it was a weight off the team’s shoulders to announce the decision.
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“This hasn’t been an easy process or a straightforward decision for us,” he said. “Valtteri has done a fantastic job over the past five seasons and he has made an essential contribution to our success and to our growth.
“Together with Lewis, he has built a benchmark partnership between two team-mates in the sport, and that has been a valuable weapon in our championship battles and pushed us to achieve unprecedented success. He would absolutely have deserved to stay with the team.
“We are very happy 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 racing category – and the past three seasons with Williams have given us a taste of what the future could hold for him in F1.
“Now, it is our challenge together to help him continue learning within 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 deliver for Mercedes on and off the track in the years ahead.
“It’s a weight off our shoulders to have our plans for 2022 clear and announced but now our focus returns to the final nine races of this season and putting everything into our challenge for this year’s world championships.”