George Russell joins Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes
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Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, all-time great and potential star, experienced warrior and fearless youngster, Mercedes stalwart and Mercedes rookie. Whatever terms best describe the mouth watering all-British partnership between Hamilton and Russell at the Silver Arrows next season, intrigue goes hand-in-hand with trepidation.
The optics are good of course. Russell started out on the Mercedes junior programme in 2017, and in 2020 switched back from Williams for one race when he filled in for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix.
Only a slow puncture scuppered his chances of winning, but he would still finish ninth. Amidst speculation he was being lined up to replace Valtteri Bottas, last summer he qualified second in Belgium in an essentially uncompetitive Williams car.
Somewhat farcically, that spot became cemented as a finishing place the following day when adverse weather meant only two safety car led laps were possible, but the weekend was enough for Toto Wolff to soon confirm his capture for 2022.
At 23, Russell is young, ambitious and brimming with potential, which must soon be turned to on-track success. A signing, which suggests an eye on the future, as well as the present.
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In many respects, the protege will be working with the ideal master.
At 36, Hamilton has seen it all, or at least he thought he had it until the questionable events of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which ultimately cost him a record-breaking eighth world championship crown.
Russell, who despite being dubbed ‘Mr Saturday’ for his above-par performances in qualifying last season, still has much to learn. Paying close inspection to the driving skills of his new teammate, not to mention the mentality he adopts, could prove fruitful on many fronts.
And yet, an air of uneasiness is currently oozing around British F1 fans. To cast this as an exciting move from Mercedes that can only benefit those involved is the more favourable narrative, and yet one that betrays the lingering suspicions of many.
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This partnership’s potential to become a domineering force, is matched by the likelihood of it exploding with volatility.
Hamilton has just parted ways with Bottas, 32, after five years which yielded five straight Constructors’ titles. He considers the Finn as his greatest teammate to the date, although Bottas’ ambition of challenging for an F1 title himself never materialised.
Perhaps though, that was why relations between the pair never flared up.
Contrast that with Hamilton’s previous four-year stint with Nico Rosberg, two of which saw both drivers embroiled in tempestuous title battles. The ill-feeling between both was evident, and Rosberg’s one-time admission that things got “pretty close” to being physical between the pair was laced with more than good humour.
Russell has already stated he’s not going to Mercedes to settle for being a no 2 driver. He has to do that of course, any pledge to the contrary would be perceived as weak and conciliatory.
But Hamilton, despite reports to the contrary, will be back in 2022. And he will be hell-bent on that unprecedented title win to take him clear of Michael Schumacher. And he will be adamant that nothing will get in his way – not even the new technical regulations coming into the sport.
Where the ticking time bomb lies, is that he won’t be about to let a new teammate, keen to start cementing his own legacy, get in his way either.
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