The prospect of George Russell replacing Valtteri Bottas to drive alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in 2022 is one that excites many.
Furthermore, the expectation that he will be ready to win the drivers’ championship next year is rather unrealistic and somewhat naïve.
The mere fact that Mercedes is contemplating Russell as the anointed to not only supersede Bottas, but also be the teams next number one driver when Hamilton decides to retire from the sport as a driver is sufficient validation to confirm their faith in his ability.
Nevertheless, even though Russell has credibly earnt the title of Mr Saturday from the media for regularly qualifying a poorly performing, under-developed, and recalcitrant Williams remarkably well during his nearly three year tenure with the gradually recovering team, unfortunately he has not had the opportunity to master his race craft anywhere except the very rear of the field, apart from his excellent cameo appearance replacing a COVID-19 struck Hamilton at Sakhir in 2020.
History shows us that the only driver who has won the WDC in their first full season with a top tier team was Giuseppe Farina in the championships very first year in 1950, that in the last 30 years only Jacques Villeneuve, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won it in their second year with a legitimate challenger, and that it is no coincidence that all three mastered their craft far from the rear of the field with formidable opponents in the year or years preceding their title.
Much of the pressure experienced by Russell during his time at Williams, and even his brilliant stand in at the Silver Arrows last year, will have been only but a mere aberration by the time he is competing with opponents who are experienced at battling in higher positions such as Hamilton, Verstappen, Leclerc, and Norris week in and week out, along with the associated politics at that level and the exponentially raised public expectations to perform.
Accordingly, the opportunity for Russell to work alongside one of the greatest drivers that F1 has ever witnessed in Hamilton, who is obviously still close to his prime, for a year or two to gain experience and learn about how F1 works at the very highest level is a once in a lifetime opportunity that would be so unique that it could only be afforded to him and no one else.
In addition to Russell’s lack of experience at the front of the grid, the grander scale journey of Mercedes and Hamilton pursuing the greatest statistical records in the history of F1 should not be overlooked and would undoubtedly take precedence as a team strategy over a Russell tilt at the title, so long as the performance level of their 2022 design can provide that opportunity. It is difficult to imagine any other scenario.
Earlier this week Russell was quoted as saying: “I do feel ready to fight for world championships and win races”.
Although it is admirable that he has a positive frame of mind and is giving the right messages whilst he awaits his fate that is in the hands of the Mercedes Board who are deliberating over the summer break which driver will partner Hamilton in 2022, history and reality clearly paint a different scenario where the chance of a Russell title next year is extremely remote, if indeed the decision is made that he will be Hamilton’s teammate.
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