George Russell is a driver who based on pure statistics doesn’t look the best, however, anyone who watches Formula One knows the reasons why he has only finished inside the points once, and why he is arguably the most exciting talents on the grid.
He is currently with Williams Racing, who have been at the very back of the grid for a few seasons, falling dramatically after picking up their last podium as recent as 2017.
Lewis Hamilton was unable to take part in the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, the second round of the Bahrain double-header and was replaced by Russell. Jack Aitken filled the boots of Russell, while he filled those of Hamilton’s….although the boots he did wear were not the best fit for him, having to squeeze into a smaller size.
If anything, this somewhat tells the pressure Russell was under, very little from Mercedes at least. Everyone wanted him to do well, some arguing that he should already be in the Mercedes car.
Russell topped the timesheets on both Friday practise sessions and this immediately raised eyebrows and expectations from F1 fans around the world. Friday is usually the day that Valtteri Bottas shows his pace before struggling for the rest of the weekend, however this time it was his team-mate that took the honours of the fastest on Friday.
For Qualifying it was advantage Bottas after he pipped Russell to pole by 0.026 seconds, not a bad effort from the British driver who was in his first Q3 of the season.
The less said about the race the better as Mercedes had a nightmare in the pits, putting the wrong tyres on Russell and a puncture meant that he was denied the first podium of his career, but did pick up his first F1 points with a 9th place finish and fastest lap.
Hamilton is looking for another mega-contract and the word is that Daimler is reluctant to offer him a new deal with Russell ready to take a step up at what would be a much lower salary.
Russell would be a good driver for Mercedes and would help them stay at the front, but his inexperience to probably lead a team may be problematic and with a very strong Red Bull pairing of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez fighting them for the title, it might be a risk too great to take for Mercedes.
I think Hamilton should retain his place with the team as he is in the form of his life and wants to break the record for most Championships. The simple thing to do is pay-off Bottas’ contract and switch him and Russell but Bottas won’t want that and that causes problems for Mercedes.
He has shown that he can take the fight to Bottas, the benchmark for him that weekend, and if you didn’t know Hamilton wasn’t racing, Russell didn’t do anything to make you think differently.
Russell is a good bargaining tool as he will be on such a low salary compared to Hamilton and arguably would have probably won the Sakhir Grand Prix if Mercedes didn’t mess up his race. Whether he has the ability to do it over a 20+ race season remains to be seen, but he will be in the Mercedes one day and probably a World Champion in the future.