ANALYSIS: Why Mercedes chose to promote Russell for 2022 – and the impact it has on the driver market
Once Valtteri Bottas’ move to Alfa Romeo was announced, it was only a matter of time before Mercedes confirmed that George Russell had earned promotion to their works team alongside Lewis Hamilton from 2022 and beyond. F1.com’s Senior Writer Lawrence Barretto answers the key questions surrounding the deal – and what it means for the rest of the driver market…
Why did Mercedes pull the trigger on Russell now?
Ultimately, this was the right time.
Mercedes have a lot of respect for the job Bottas has done since joining in 2017. If Russell wasn’t around, the Finn would almost certainly have been retained for another year.
But Russell is around. And his form and progression during three years at Williams had become too good to ignore. In Mercedes’ eyes, Russell had served his apprenticeship and hit the targets they had set him. Bottas’ time, then, was up and he became the first driver to leave Mercedes for another team since they returned to F1 as a works manufacturer (Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher both retired).
Russell’s performance as a stand-in for Hamilton in the Sakhir Grand Prix was outstanding. They were impressed with how he handled the unexpected opportunity. And how he reacted when despite that, he missed out on promotion for this year.
His strength in qualifying has been apparent for a while now. Crucially, he has started to consistently convert that form on race day when the points are scored.
Mercedes were also keen to maximise the opportunity of having Russell alongside Hamilton in terms of the young Briton’s growth. He now has at least two seasons (Hamilton’s current deal expires at the end of 2023) to learn from arguably the greatest driver of all time.
Show well against Hamilton and it sets him up perfectly to take on the mantle as team leader in the future, when the seven-time world champion calls time on his career.
Get overshadowed in the first year and that can be seen to be expected given the gulf in experience between the two. It’s win-win.
Hamilton said Russell is the future. Mercedes think he is, too having signed him up for the “long-term”. It’ll be fascinating to see how he gets on.
Can Russell deliver on his promise?
Mercedes certainly think so – and all the evidence supports that case.
The feeling internally at Williams is that Russell is a future world champion. Not only does he have the raw speed but he’s a quick learner. Rarely does he make the same mistake twice.
The Briton is sharp, too. To be successful in F1, you need to be more than fast. You must read a race, be aware of what’s going on around you, be several steps ahead in your planning and think about your role in the wider team strategy. Russell has all those attributes, shown most recently in Hungary when he offered to sacrifice his race for team mate Latifi if it helped get the team the best result possible.
He’s shown an impressive ability to galvanise a team, in the way greats like Hamilton and Michael Schumacher have done, and he has built a strong genuine bond with Williams.
Russell has also consistently taken his opportunities. He won the GP3 title at his first attempt. Did the same in F2. And while the Williams hasn’t been the most competitive for most of his time there, he’s done what he can to show his prowess. His qualifying head-to-head against all team mates is an impressive 50-1, the only loss coming against Bottas when he stood in at Mercedes.
Who will take Russell’s place at Williams?
With Russell’s departure confirmed, it now paves the way for Williams to announce their plans for 2022.
There has been plenty of interest in a berth at the British team following their significantly improved form this year.
Bottas, Daniil Kvyat and Nico Hulkenberg have all been linked with the seat, but it is Alex Albon who is the overwhelming favourite to get it, having been in talks with boss Jost Capito for several months.
Nicholas Latifi is expected to retain his place for a third successive year.