No mystery over Hamilton’s next team mate as Bottas heads for Mercedes exit

2021 F1 season

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With the long-awaited confirmation that Valtteri Bottas will not remain at Mercedes next season, the next move in the Formula 1 driver market will surprise few.

The identity of Lewis Hamilton’s next team mate at Mercedes has been long rumoured, and a formal announcement is expected in the near future.

Following a series of excellent performances for Williams, and a stunning one-off outing for Mercedes last year as substitute for an unwell Hamilton, George Russell is due to be confirmed as Bottas’ replacement.

Russell was appointed to Mercedes’ young driver programme at the beginning of 2017. The 18-year-old famously impressed team principal Toto Wolff with his professional approach, giving a presentation on his career so far using Microsoft Powerpoint.

He had an excellent pedigree in karting, where he was crowned CIK-FIA European KF3 champion in 2012. Russell then took the BRDC Formula 4 title on his graduation to cars in 2014 and impressed in the Formula Renault Eurocup. Once Mercedes took him under their wing, Russell delivered the results they demanded, claiming the GP3 (now Formula 3) and Formula 2 championships in consecutive seasons.

That paved the way for a Formula 1 debut with Williams the following year. Although he struggled to impress in the woeful FW42, he out-qualified Robert Kubica every time out. He did the same to Nicholas Latifi the following year.

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But Russell’s stand-out moment came when he landed the opportunity to stand in for Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix. Crammed into the ill-fitting cockpit of a car he had never driven, Russell came within three hundredths of a second of beating Bottas to pole, passed his team mate at the start to lead the race, and was on course to win it until the team fitted an incorrect set of tyres to his car during a hasty pit stop.

The quality of Russell’s performance inevitably fired speculation Mercedes would move Bottas aside for him sooner rather than later. At last weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix the plan became an open secret. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner made a point of complimenting Russell on his new deal while the Williams driver was conducting a television interview. Even Wolff publicly referred to an upcoming vacancy at Williams, without specifying exactly how it would arise.

But the clearest indication of the impending change came from Russell’s future team mate. Hamilton has loyally supported Bottas, with whom he has enjoyed a productive and far more benign relationship than his predecessor Nico Rosberg. But at Zandvoort, while still giving credit to his current team mate, Hamilton spoke far more warmly about the driver who is set to join him.

Hamilton described Russell as “an incredibly talented driver” when RaceFans asked the reigning champion how he envisaged a working relationship with the 23-year-old, singling out his “amazing” performance in the rain-hit qualifying session at Spa. Likewise, Russell has been unstinting in his praise of Hamilton.

All that’s left to come now is the formal confirmation that they’ll square up against each other next year.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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26 comments on “No mystery over Hamilton’s next team mate as Bottas heads for Mercedes exit”

  1. I only hope that GR gets up to speed quickly and doesn’t fall into the wingman role Bottas ended up in

    1. Assuming he does fall into the wingman role, it wont be for very long. What he must not do is try to get too political early and must avoid using the press to fight internal battles. He is the long term future of Mercedes he has plenty of time to achieve great things.

      1. Yeah absolutely. He still gets a bit excited and make silly mistakes when he’s in good positions so he needs to learn to cut that out. He seemed to struggle with the pressure of scoring a point for Williams – always doing well until it really mattered… He needs to learn to cut that out. Lots of drivers have tried and failed to compete with Hamilton and Verstappen and it often leads to them becoming demotivated and struggling to perform. That can’t happen this time if he wants to be the top Merc driver in the future.

        1. @petebaldwin

          Lots of drivers have tried and failed to compete with Hamilton and Verstappen and it often leads to them becoming demotivated and struggling to perform.

          Interestingly enough, as Button and Rosberg were serious threats to Hamilton in the same team, and Alonso despite finishing below him in the 2007 WDC hunt he wasn’t neither outscored nor outperformed, then you’re left with only another Finn, Kovalainen, fitting that description above.
          Verstappen had the same number of teammates along a much younger career and more of them struggled against him, although we have to admit Hamilton had it slightly harder with the level of his teammates (overall).

          Reply moderated
        2. Completely agree that he doesn’t have to match or beat Hamilton next year.

          However, and this is an actual question because this season has been a whirlwind, has he had those mistakes this year? He absolutely blew some opportunities last year (Imola), but I feel like he’s cut those out for the most part, hasn’t he?

    2. He has not been bought in to do the Bottas role. (Well maybe next season). If that was the intention they would have stuck with Bottas.
      George has the easiest ride on the grid next year. He doesn’t have to match or beat Hamilton. Anything beyond that is a win for him.
      In 23 he will have the hardest job on the grid. He must match or beat Hamilton.

      1. Absolutely, let’s not forget bottas is eclipsing perez as a number 2 this year, so he was fine for his role, they want 2 roosters for 2022.

  2. Sebastian still didn’t sign contract….

    1. @denny He’s under contract as he joined on a multi-year deal.

    2. Toto has forgot his uncomfortable role mediating the Hamilton / Rosberg years. He is about to be reintroduced to the awkward role of being in the middle and now with national overtones as both Russell and Hammy are British. Toto meet awkward, awkward meet Toto……………never know what you had until it’s gone (to Alfa)

  3. I would not blink if it is stroll.

  4. I’m looking forward to the livery on the Uralkali Mercedes F1 car next year ;)

  5. Can’t wait for Norris and Hamilton to have a coming together like Copse this year or Spain 2016 and then actually having to blame one of them!

    1. *the Anglophone press having to blame one of them

      1. I don’t understand these comments.
        When critical of something do it on the appropriate page, not at Russell’s pre-engagement lunch party.

        1. I find that a weird comment, unless he thought norris was gonna come to mercedes.

  6. The PowerPoint presentation was what he did for Williams.

  7. Nico Rosberg said something on Sky over the weekend which kind of suggested that the reason for the delay in making the announcement was that Liberty had asked them to wait until the Netflix crew were around Mercedes so that they could get Russell’s contract signing on camera.

    That is ridiculous is true. Things like that shouldn’t be dictated by Liberty or a reality TV show pretending to be a documentary.

    1. I am sure the delay in announcing would have been waiting for Bottas to announce his new seat (which was to be announced right after Kimi officially said he is stopping) @roger-ayles.

      That Netflix would film a “Russel signing a contract with Mercedes” moment is fine, but it wouldn’t in any way have delayed either the contract coming through, nor even the announcement (since Netflix could have filmed that just about everywhere and used it in their episode, they don’t care that much about the real timeline of things when it can be made more dramatic).

      Prepare for a sequence of Russel-Bottas crash in Imola, Russel getting into Q3, Russel points, Bottas bowling aside the front of the field and then Russel signing a contract. All made dramatic as if this was ever a tight “battle for the seat” between the two.

      1. “All made dramatic as if this was ever a tight “battle for the seat” between the two.”

        I believe that’s called making an entertaining show. It’s a show designed to entertain and create interest in the sport.

      2. Rob (@realnigelmansell)
        7th September 2021, 7:44

        It probably was for both drivers. Toto probably knew months ahead but both bottas was probably convinced he had a chance and Russell that it might fall through until the last moment

  8. Still may not be George. I’d imagine the size difference between Russell and Hamilton has given the Merc engineers pause and may be the thing that makes them decide to go with someone else. Given Lando’s performances and popularity (can’t forget selling stuff) he would seem to be a perfect choice.

  9. I wish it could be Alonso.
    That would be so much fun :)

    1. it’s been done, and it was, but didn’t last… bwa hahaha

      1. Now hamilton is alonso and russell is hamilton!

  10. But the clearest indication of the impending change came from Russell’s future team mate. Hamilton has loyally supported Bottas, with whom he has enjoyed a productive and far more benign relationship than his predecessor Nico Rosberg.

    Less productive, actually, even with mind games. As for loyality, it was mostly to satisfy Hamilton’s ego.

    Reply moderated

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