A frantic F1 week in Bahrain continues to surprise as Mercedes will run George Russell in the W11 in place of sick Lewis Hamilton for the Sakhir GP. Yesterday the news broke that Hamilton had contracted COVID-19 and will be unable to race.
With much speculation about who Mercedes could partner with Valtteri Bottas, George Russell was mostly seen as an outside bet. In particular with reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne confirmed to be flying to Bahrain.
We may never know whether it was the will of the Internet or a legendary George Russell Powerpoint presentation that helped the young Brit replace his compatriot. In any case, the move represents a golden opportunity for Russell.
Over the past two years with current backmarker team Williams, Russell has yet to score an F1 point. That Russell is quick is without a doubt. He has never been out-qualified by a teammate in F1 and won seven F2 races en route to taking the 2018 F2 title. Russell finished comfortably ahead of Lando Norris and Alex Albon that season but has driven inferior machinery to both since his F1 promotion. That will change for the first time on Friday.
Russell will switch from Williams to Mercedes for at least this weekend. Should Hamilton not return a negative COVID test ahead of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Russell will also race in Mercedes at Yas Marina also.
Sergio Perez missed two Grand Prix weekends earlier this season at Silverstone with COVID-19. It should be noted that Perez’s positive test came a little later in the week than Hamilton’s, so we may yet see the world champion under the Abu Dhabi lights.
Mercedes pressure at Sakhir, but not on George Russell
The pressure will be off Russell in one sense. Few people, if any, could fill the void left by Lewis Hamilton. With the championship already won, Russell bringing an unfamiliar car home with even a handful of points would be seen as a successful weekend. Russell, of course, won’t want that and will be looking to finally show the world what they’re missing out on with him being at the back of the grid.
Instead, it is Bottas who needs to shine. Valtteri has years of experience working with the senior Mercedes team. Not to mention the 15 races, plus testing this season with the W11. Should Russell come in and outqualify or outscore the Finn, it could seal the fate of who will drive for Mercedes in 2022.
George Russell will be wearing the Mercedes overalls in tomorrow’s press conference, before getting in the W11 in Free Practice 1 on Friday afternoon to kick off the Sakhir GP weekend.