Why did Mercedes pick George Russell as Lewis Hamilton’s replacement?

© Daimler AG

By Adrian Mann

Somewhat surprisingly Mercedes announced today that George Russell would be replacing Lewis Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix. But why did they choose the young Briton?

Russell certainly wasn’t the most obvious option for Mercedes, especially considering they have two reserve drivers – Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Gutierrez. So why then did Mercedes go to the trouble of negotiating with Williams to get them to let Russell race for the team?

Well, to put it bluntly, because they see the Briton as the future. Mercedes obviously sees their junior driver as a potential team leader, once Lewis Hamilton decides to hang up his helmet, and why wouldn’t they? The 22-year-old’s  track record prior to entering Formula 1 is impeccable. So let’s examine his career so far.

George was born on February 15 1998 in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England and his love for motorsport was evident from an early age. His career started on the karting track in 2006, where he went on to win the MSA British Cadet Championship and the British Open in 2009. In 2010 he started racing in the Rotax Mini Max category where he became the Super One British champion, Formula Kart Stars British Champion and he won the Kartmasters British Grand Prix. The following year George graduated to the Premier Junior Karting class (KF3) and won the SKUSA Supernationals title. In 2012 and 2013 he became the CIK-FIA European Junior Champion and ended his karting career on a high note.

In 2014 George started his single-seater career with a bang and won the BRDC Formula 4 Championship title in his first year. He also picked up a number of podium finishes in the Formula Renault 2.0 ALPS Championship and a win at Jerez in his one-off appearance in the Formula Renault Eurocup finale. Adding to his accolades in 2014, he won the prestigious McLaren BRDC Autosport Award.

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In 2015 George made the switch to the FIA Formula 3 European Championship for two seasons driving for HitechGP. The car was powered by the Mercedes-AMG Formula 3 engine and in his second year he finished the season in third position, scoring two victories and ten podium.

It didn’t take long for George to get noticed by the reigning Formula One World Constructors’ Champions Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport, who signed him to their Junior Programme in January of 2017. However George didn’t just wait to get noticed, he took his destiny into his own hands and famously e-mailed his CV to team boss Toto Wolff, who immediately proceeded to arrange a meeting.

In the same year George started competing in Formula One’s support series, GP3, racing for frontrunners ART Grand Prix. He won the GP3 Driver’s championship, taking four victories, seven podiums and four pole positions in the process. This won him the opportunity to take part in two Formula 1 Free Practice sessions with the Sahara Force India Team.

In 2018 the young Briton moved up to compete in the FIA Formula 2 Championship, also with ART Grand Prix, while also taking the role of Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Test & Reserve Driver. In F2 George took seven victories, eleven podiums and five pole positions and won the 2018 F2 Driver’s championship.

In October of 2018 it was announced that George signed a multi-year deal with Williams Racing and would make his Formula 1 debut in the 2019 season. Reportedly George once again took matters into his own hands and called up former Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team Executive Director, technical, Paddy Lowe and went on to make his case for a drive in 2019, with a little help from a Powerpoint presentation.

Unfortunately Williams’ car in 2019 was fundamentally flawed and George and his team-mate, returning Formula 1 legend Robert Kubica, were relegated to cruising at the back of the grid. However Russell managed to consistently beat his more experienced team-mate in qualifying and the race. He has also shown the patience and team leader qualities that are well beyond his years.

The 2019 season came and went without a single point scored, but in 2020 George would stun the Formula 1 world by consistently dragging his, still not very cooperative, Williams into Q2. Although he has yet to score his first Formula 1  point, there is no doubt that he has been one of the most impressive drivers of the 2020 season.

Now, with this amazing opportunity, Russell has a chance to finally show what he can do in a competitive car. It would be a tragedy is something happened to prevent him from taking his first points or, dare I say, his first win.

And for Mercedes, with both the drivers’ and the constructors’ trophy in the bag, this is the perfect opportunity to test the young driver in race conditions, without any actual risk. However, as much as Russell could gain from this, a subpar performance might throw a wrench into his plans to join Mercedes full-time sooner rather than later. One might say the Briton has as much to lose as he has to gain. However, not as much as Valtteri Bottas could lose if Russell manages to beat him in his first race for the team.

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