The worst kept secret in motorsports at long last is out of the bag. Just over a day after Valterri Bottas announced he was off to Alfo Romeo, Totto Wolf’s Mercedes team was quick to name his replacement. Although just about everyone and their mother knew well in advance who that would be. The pride of King’s Lynn, England, 23-year-old George Russell. The former F3 and F2 champion has been in Mercedes’ junior program since 2017. After a few years with Force India and Williams, he now is making the jump to the premier team in the Formula 1 paddock.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) September 7, 2021
Chain of Events
Although this move for Russell had almost certainly been in the works for months, if not years, a few recent events felt tied to it. Firstly, the move of Bottas to Alfa Romeo, which was the indicator that the Russell announcement was imminent. The Finn wanted a multi-year deal, and the team based in Switzerland was happy to oblige. After returning to Formula 1 as a constructer in 2019, the team has yet to reach a podium despite getting close a handful of times. Bottas had eight career podiums before he ever got to Mercedes in 2017, and is set to finish top five in the points for the seventh time in the last nine years.
The reason why a seat became available at Alfa Romeo was due to the retirement of the iconic Kimi Raikkonen. The 2007 World Champion and 21 time Grand Prix winner officially announced he was calling it a wrap a few weeks ago. In his press conference, he said that this decision was come to in late 2020. A phenomenal career for the man who is on the record calling being a Formula 1 driver “a hobby”. Goodnight sweet prince.
Nothing will top the time Kimi Raikkonen suffered a mechanical failure in Monaco, walked straight to his yacht, and enjoyed the rest of the race from there 😂
— ESPN F1 (@ESPNF1) September 1, 2021
With that in mind, it begs the question firstly, how long was Bottas in talks with Alfa Romeo. Secondly, when did Mercedes get their 2022 plans in check? Almost certainly it was long before this week.
With Russell now locked in with Mercedes, it is set as an all British driver lineup. His teammate is of course Lewis Hamilton, who earlier this year inked a new deal with the team. Looking at the teams with locked-in drivers for next year, no one else carries two drivers from the same country. Not much of a surprise, but Hamilton was a hero to Russell when he was a kid. There is even a picture of a young Russell in his karting days with Hamilton in his early days with McLaren. A full-circle moment if you have ever seen one.
I want to take a moment to welcome @GeorgeRussell63 to the team. Through hard work he has rightly earned his spot. I look forward to seeing him grow as a driver with this great team and working with him to raise @MercedesAMGF1 higher. See you next year🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/CRsgrilmUd
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) September 7, 2021
Russell also has prior experience in a Mercedes car. He subbed in for Hamilton a season ago when the seven-time champion had a positive case of Covid-19. At last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix, Russell was a major pit road mishap away from most likely winning the race. For whatever reason, he received a used set of front tires used by Bottas, forcing another stop a lap later.
Russell as of this moment sits 15th in the points with Williams. Although his highest finish of the year was a second at Spa-Francorchamps, that for all intents and purposes was not really a race. However, a race prior, Russell picked up a then career-best eighth in Hungary. Earlier this year, the Brit was also named co-director of the Grand Prix Driver’s Association, a Formula 1 union of sorts. It may not be right away, but Russell should become a key player in Formula 1 for years to come.
Follow Jack Gaffney on Twitter @JackGaffneyPTST
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