Lewis Hamilton had to miss the Sakhir Grand Prix due to testing positive for Covid-19. George Russell, a Mercedes Junior driver, had to fill in last minute.
By Scottland Barcia
George Russell is typically found in the Willams Garage on race weekends, but with Lewis Hamilton testing positive for Covid-19, the Mercedes Junior driver was asked to take over in the seven-time Champion’s seat. Only having four days to get ready to drive a car he had never been in, nor one that was designed for him, Russell took on the challenge.
The race weekend seemed to start in George Russell’s favor and he had the win in sight, leading a total of 61 laps of the 87-lap race. The Mercedes handled every corner on the track, gaining pace each run and inching closer toward the end of the race while the fans at home took in every second of the excitement. It was a Cinderella Story minutes away from becoming a reality.
Russell is one of the rising stars in Formula One. His 2019 rookie class is considered one of the most talented rookie classes since 2015, when Max Verstappen entered Formula One and claimed his first win a year later. All three drivers in Russell’s rookie class have been deemed future F1 world champions in the making, with Russell receiving most of the praise given his skill, patience, and ability to push the car to its limits in addition to his impressive track record.
Over the years, Formula One has seen a multitude of talented drivers. Most have entered the sport as champions from the lower-level series, and some have multiple championships to their name. George Russell is one of those drivers.
Drivers start in what is called “karting” before entering the ranks of the single-seater series, such as Formula or IndyCar. In 2006, George Russell began his karting career at the age of eight. Russell won six championships in his time at the karting level, with 2013 being Russell’s final season before moving to the Formula One feeder series. 2014 marked Russell’s debut in the single-seater series, in which Russell competed in two Formula Renault 2.0 Series and a Formula 4. He ended up winning the Formula 4 championship his rookie season and taking fourth in the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps championship after missing a round of racing due to an illness.
With his impressive stats, all eyes were on Russell as he continued to move forward in the racing world. Questions arose on which junior program Russell would join, and in early 2017, confirming what many expected, Russell became a junior driver for Mercedes. One of the most coveted teams in the paddock, Mercedes holds seven constructor championships and nine driver championship titles, with the most notable Mercedes driver being the seven-time world champion, Lewis Hamilton. Since 2014, Mercedes has been the dominating team in the paddock. Every up and coming Formula driver hopes to either driver for Mercedes or outperforms them, and there is no doubt Mercedes has the most resources and funding to help young drivers rise through the ranks. Raw talent and a PowerPoint presentation helped Russell land his role as a junior driver for the team.
Russell flew through the ranks of the feeder series, competing in GP3 in 2017 and Formula 2 in 2018. He claimed the championship in both series, joining the ranks alongside current Ferrari Formula One driver Charles Leclerc as one of few drivers to claim both championship titles before entering Formula One. Russell’s chances of getting a Formula One seat was high, and the question became for which team?
The answer: Williams.
Williams Racing is a household name in Formula One, and out of the list drivers that have raced with Williams, many have become almost infamous. To race for Williams, drivers enter alongside legendary names such as Nigel Mansell, Jenson Button, Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Damon Hill raced for Williams. The team claimed nine constructor championships and seven driver championships between the 80s and 90s.
Despite all its past success, Williams saw a decline in results as the years went on. The once-famed team became the slowest car on the grid, and George Russell went from a Formula 2 champion to last in the drivers’ standings.
In 2019, Russell was close to points on multiple occasions, yet fate seemed to have other plans every time. In 2020, Russell was a total of ten laps away from his first Formula One point at Nürburgring until he crashed behind the safety car. The Williams team was the last family-owned team and, hoping to stay alive, contracted Russell for another year, interfering with the chance of Russell moving to Mercedes earlier than predicted. While Williams sold to new management mid-season in 2020 due to underfunding, Russell is still contracted to drive for Williams in 2021.
Now, once again back in late 2020, Lewis Hamilton tested positive for Covid-19. This was a shock, as Hamilton was the most precautions driver in the paddock, and Mercedes urgently called on Russell to fill his seat.
Having taken the lead from his more experienced teammate, Valterri Bottas, Russell had the win in sight. The strategy and cations had played into Russell’s favor and it looked as if nothing could take away his chance at victory.
However, the safety car and Mercedes called both Russell and Bottas in for a pit stop. The tires on both Russell and Bottas’ cars had been switched, forcing the drivers to return to the pit or face penalties. This was the first pit stop error for Mercedes since 2016. Still, Russell only dropped back to fifth place and continued to charge forward. He fought his way back to second and closed in on the leader, once again with the win in his sights.
As the radio sparked to life, fans heard the worst news of the night. Russell’s left rear tire was punctured and losing pressure fast and, once again pitting in the process, he fell back to p15. Once again, he went on a charge and came home in ninth place, earning three points along the way.
The defeat crushed many, and George Russell’s prone form lying on the grass after the race shattered hearts. Even more were broken a few days later when Hamilton was announced to be Covid-19 free and Russell was once again in a Williams, though for how long?
With his stand out performance, Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff has a difficult decision to make for the 2022 driver line up.
Russell is contracted with Williams only through the 2021 season, and after 2021 he is free to move to another team. Bottas is only contracted for 2021 as well and, with Russell’s performance, questions have been raised over if Bottas will continue with Mercedes. It is certain that with the looks of things, it will not be long before we see Russell in a Mercedes once again.
Edited by Emma Moloney