George Russell replaces Lewis Hamilton in the No. 44 Mercedes for the Sakhir Grand Prix after the seven-time champion tested positive for novel coronavirus COVID-19 earlier this week. Russell moves over from the No. 63 Williams Racing team where he finished 12th in last week’s Bahrain GP.
“Very few people are lucky enough to drive for an F1 team each year,” Russell said in a tweet. “I’m about to get the chance to drive for two. Unbelievably grateful to Williams Racing and Mercedes AMG F1 for this opportunity.”
Russell has made 36 career starts in Formula 1 with five lead lap finishes to his credit. He is yet to score a point in the series, but came close twice with 11th-place finishes last year in the German GP and earlier this season in the Tuscan GP.
“First and foremost, I wish to thank our loyal partners at Williams for their collaboration and open-mindedness in making it possible for George to race for Mercedes this weekend,” said team principal Toto Wolff in a release. “The conversations with the team at Williams were positive and pragmatic, and those were the key factors in reaching an agreement.
“It will not be a straightforward task for George to make the transition from the Williams to the W11, but he is race-ready and has detailed understanding of the 2020 tires and how they perform on this generation of cars. George has shown impressive form this year with Williams, playing an instrumental role in their climb up the grid, and I am optimistic that he will deliver a strong performance alongside Valtteri [Bottas], who will be a demanding reference for him.”
It fits! Just… 😂 pic.twitter.com/c8P481qhIP
— George Russell (@GeorgeRussell63) December 2, 2020
His replacement of Hamilton for the Sakhir GP could help shape Russell’s career.
The move, albeit a short term one, gives Russell a chance to contend at the sports’ highest level. This is not only his best opportunity to score his first career F1 point, but he will race for the team that won the last five consecutive GPs and the organization that won the last seven.
And the playing field will be leveled somewhat for Russell. The Sakhir GP will be run on the outer circuit, which is a configuration that none of the other competitors have raced.
Williams’ release of Russell for this race, and potentially the Abu Dhabi GP if Hamilton does not have a negative COVID test in time, comes with consequences for that organization. Williams currently trails Haas F1 by three points for ninth in the constructors’ championship. Last week Haas driver Sergio Perez came within a few laps of finishing on the podium before suffering a catastrophic engine failure. But the organization will also have a relief driver in one of their cars as Pietro Fittipaldi replaces Romain Grosjean after his horrific accident on the opening lap of the in the Bahrain GP.
Fancy making your @F1 debut, @JaitkenRacer? 😉
The 25-year-old will take the place of @GeorgeRussell63 this weekend, whom the team has released to drive for @MercedesAMGF1 in Bahrain.
Full story 👇#WeAreWilliams 💙
— Williams Racing (@WilliamsRacing) December 2, 2020
Russell’s replacement of Hamilton for the Sakhir GP created a cascade. Jack Aitken will replace Russell at Williams.
Aitkin has scored two podiums in F2 along with eight other points’ paying finishes.
“I’m absolutely over the moon to have the opportunity to make my debut with Williams this coming weekend,” said Aitken in a press release. “I am extremely happy for George to have his chance too! I really mean it when I say I’ve felt very much at home here since I joined Williams earlier this year, so to get my chance to help the team try to achieve that elusive points finish is an extremely satisfying occasion to say the least.
“I’ll be doing all I can to prepare in the coming days, but truthfully, I feel like I have been ready since Melbourne. I also want to wish Lewis well in his recovery, and good luck to George getting the chance to drive the Mercedes this weekend.”
Ralph Boschung will replace Aitkin in his F2 ride.