Russell’s promotion to Mercedes, where he will replace the Alfa Romeo-bound Valtteri Bottas, is a huge step forward.
Williams driver George Russell is well aware of the daunting task that awaits him with Mercedes next season, stating that racing alongside Lewis Hamilton will be “the greatest challenge” he has ever faced in his motorsport career. Russell’s three-year contract with Williams will come to its conclusion at the end of the season, having delivered results, particularly this year, that have frequently exceeded the British constructor’s potential. The 23-year-old’s promotion to a coveted seat at Mercedes, where he will replace the Alfa Romeo-bound Valtteri Bottas, is a huge step forward for him, but he insists it is only ‘the first step’ in his development as a top-tier F1 driver.
“Signing the Mercedes contract was one of the greatest moments in my life, but it is only the first step,” Russell told Bild. “The really hard work has yet to come. To drive for a team like Mercedes and alongside Lewis Hamilton, if I thought it was easy, I would be foolish. I am happy, but I also know that things are only really getting started now. It’s going to be the greatest challenge I’ve ever faced. I know what it took to get here. Getting into Formula 1 is not the end. My goal is to become World Champion,” the 23-year-old added.
Russell’s self-proclaimed ambition aligns with Mercedes’ own expectations for its new hire. In light of the 23-year-old’s spectacular one-off with the silver arrows at the Sakhir GP in Bahrain in 2020, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff is not dismissing the possibility of Russell dethroning Hamilton as champion next season.
Wolff told Motorsport-Total that Russell must confirm that he can consistently deliver top performances like in Bahrain 2020 to fight for a championship. “That can happen in the first year and would be a luxury problem that we would then have to solve,” Wolff added.
Russell was leading the Sakhir GP in 2020 before a Mercedes pit-stop error, and he recovered to second behind Sergio Perez before suffering a late puncture. The Brit said at the time that he was “absolutely gutted.”
Russell finished without a deserved maiden Formula 1 win after an incredible, yet heartbreaking, Mercedes debut at the Sakhir GP in 2020, one that was “taken away twice” from Lewis Hamilton’s stand-in in dramatic circumstances. He had to step in for Hamilton as the world champion had contracted COVID at the time. Meanwhile, Mercedes praised the 23-year-old and revealed that a “colossal” pit-stop error, the first of two massive tyre blows to Russell’s chances as Sergio Perez won a thriller in Bahrain, was caused by radio failure.
“Guys. I don’t know what to say,” Russell had said on team radio. “That was taken away from us twice. Honestly. It’s been a pleasure and I’ve loved it and honestly, I’m gutted. I’m absolutely gutted.”
“I can’t really put it into words to be honest. Jumping out of the car, it wasn’t a nice feeling,” Russell had said after the race to Sky Sports. “I’ve had races where I’ve had victories taken away from me, but twice? I just couldn’t believe it. I gave it everything I had. I was managing the race at the start, I felt confident, comfortable, managing the gap to Valtteri. Then obviously we had the muddle up in the pit-stop, that put us on the back foot, I had to overtake. I think we still could have caught Sergio, we had such a tyre advantage, the car was so quick. Gutted,” he concluded.