Melbourne’s Albert Park grand prix, the traditional Formula One curtain raiser, has been pushed back to April 10 in a record-breaking 23-event calendar for 2022.
The wait is over and official confirmation has come that George Russell will be promoted to Mercedes in 2022, replacing the outgoing Valtteri Bottas to race alongside seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
Having returned after the mid-season break with a decision made by team boss Toto Wolff on who will partner Hamilton in 2022, the popular choice was that it would be 23-year old Russell – who is enjoying a standout campaign this year.
The young Briton’s elevation to the seven-time constructor’s world champions, also brought about the end of Bottas’ five-year stint at the Silver Arrows. A separate announcement the day before confirmed he’d be heading to Alfa Romeo on a multi-year deal.
“It’s a special day for me personally and professionally, but also a day of mixed emotions,” said Russell on social media. “I’m excited and humbled to be joining Mercedes next year, which is a huge career step, but it also means I’ll be saying goodbye to my teammates and friends at Williams.”
You never forget your first…once a Williams driver, always a Williams driver ????
— Williams Racing (@WilliamsRacing) September 7, 2021
Russell’s promotion on a long-term deal does at last mean that Mercedes have future-proofed their driver line-up, as their rivals have done in recent years. Red Bull currently spearheads the world championship with Max Verstappen, while Ferrari and McLaren boast Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris, respectively, for their future title prospects.
With Hamilton at 36 years old and likely nearing the end of his illustrious Formula One career, the time was more than right for Mercedes to opt for Russell over handing Bottas another single season extension.
In his two and a half years at the subpar Williams outfit, the 2019 Formula 2 champion has developed great maturity and demonstrated great speed. The record of never being outqualified by a Williams teammate still stands for ‘Mr Saturday’, while first career points at the Hungarian Grand Prix were quickly backed up with a shock front-row start at a wet Spa and a trip to the podium in the non-race.
Moments such as Russell’s infamous run in with Bottas at Imola earlier this year, also shows a fierce competitor as well in the Briton. That could potentially give his new employers a headache, which they’ve not had to deal with since Hamilton was partnered with Nico Rosberg.
The more compliant Bottas provided harmony for Mercedes and for Hamilton, who has been able to romp to every title since losing out to Rosberg in 2016. Compliance had also blunted Bottas, despite boasting a steely exterior and having made the infamous statement of “to whom it may concern, f- you,” to his critics.
Never had the Finn seriously been in a position to challenge Hamilton, which, given the promise seen in a standout 2014 season for Williams, has been bitterly disappointing. Nine wins with a slew of pole positions and podiums over the five years does seem like a wasted opportunity – especially when driving the fastest car on the grid for the best team.
Though an opportunity to lead a team like Alfa Romeo, which has been meandering at the back of the field in recent time might see a renaissance for Bottas. Albeit it’s unlikely that the Finn will be fighting on-track with Mercedes anytime soon.
Will this mean that Russell is different in how he fares against Hamilton? Many will be hoping for the senior Briton to roll up his sleeves and go toe-to-toe with his young compatriot, perhaps even in the same mould as when Hamilton upset Fernando Alonso in 2007.
What would be great however, would be a master-apprentice dynamic given that Hamilton could very well retire at the end of his next contract in 2023.
Nevertheless, there will be excitement aplenty now that the deal is done and we get to see Russell back in a Mercedes since being cruelled at the Sakhir Grand Prix by a botched pit-stop and puncture. Importantly too, it signals the transitioning of Formula One to the next generation that have risen up from Formula 2 and that is promising.