Russell not underestimating Mercedes challenge
By Mat Coch
Saturday 18th September, 2021 - 12:00pm
George Russell is not underestimating the challenge that lies ahead of him when he joins Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for the 2022 Formula 1 season.
Russell was confirmed alongside Hamilton in the lead up to the Italian Grand Prix, the Brit replacing the Alfa Romeo Sauber-bound Valtteri Bottas.
“I’m under no illusion how tough that’s going to be,” Russell said.
“I think we all know how strong Lewis is, and in my opinion he’s probably the greatest driver of all time.
“He’s a seven-time world champion, for a reason.”
The relationship between Hamilton and Bottas was often cited as one of the primary reasons for Mercedes to maintain the status quo next season.
Bottas brought with him a degree of calmness welcomed by the team following an explosive 2016.
That season, Nico Rosberg and Hamilton clashed famously as they battled for the world championship, a scenario that has not repeated in the five years since.
A highly regarded youngster, popular opinion within the paddock is that Russell has the potential to be world champion.
How those ambitions are managed internally will be key to the squad’s internal harmony.
In Russell’s favour, however, is that he’s been part of the Mercedes programme for some time, and in many ways is viewed as the heir apparent once Hamilton does retire.
The 36-year-old admitted he had conversations with team boss Toto Wolff about who would partner him going forward, noting he put in positive words for both Russell and Bottas.
“We’re very much team-mates, we discuss everything, And we work together as a team in terms of how we navigate moving forwards,” Hamilton said of his conversations with Wolff.
“He asked me what I thought of George and naturally gave positive feedback.
“He asked me how I felt about Valtteri too and did the same.”
Joining Mercedes in a way brings Russell full circle, his pathway to F1 having been aided by the German marque.
“It’s pretty surreal to be honest, because I’ve been part of Mercedes for so long now,” Russell said of his signing.
“When I joined as a junior driver and coming through the ranks, testing for them, reserve driver, and then still being at Williams, they sort of overlooked everything, managed me.
“So, in a way, almost returning back to where I started my journey towards F1.
“Obviously, it’s sad to close this chapter with Williams,” he added.
“It’s been a great journey and so pleased we’ve had some great results of recent races to show for our efforts.”
The hard work, however, remains ahead of both he and Hamilton as new aerodynamic rules next season threaten to upset the established pecking order.
Mercedes has dominated the current turbo-hybrid era, and while the power unit rules are not expected to change until 2026 (having been delayed another year) it does afford rivals their best opportunity to gain the upper-hand since 2014.
“I think I’m coming in an incredibly fortunate position that I can go in and learn from the best,” Russell said of joining Hamilton.
“And also, next year with the new regulations, we’re going to have to work together closely to try and push the team forward and develop the car, because it’s a completely new set of goalposts that everybody’s working towards.
“That’s going to be the key thing,” he added.
“So, I’m really excited to be teaming up with him and see what we can do together.”