With Lewis Hamilton sitting out the Sakhir GP due to coronavirus, Mercedes has replaced the British driver with one of their own juniors this weekend. Williams’ George Russell steps in the vacant Silver Arrow in an unlikely opportunity that could have many consequences.
One of the burning questions on everyone’s mind is – what happens if the 22-year-old ends up outclassing Bottas?
While the Brackley outfit has asserted that Russell’s results won’t affect the immediate functioning of the team, there’s a lot at stake this weekend. Particularly for the man he’s replacing and the driver he’s going up against.
Heading into the race weekend, not many expected Russell to work wonders with the W11. Jumping into a new car in an unfamiliar environment and immediately challenging the top drivers is no easy task. However, Russell’s done exactly that so far.
The Briton’s topped both free practice sessions, raising uncomfortable questions about Bottas’ competence as a top driver and the true power of the Mercedes car. Having driven and developed the W11 over the course of an entire season, Bottas should theoretically beat Russell quite effortlessly.
Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case and Russell has, quite frankly, making the Finn look second best. It is just free practice, but dominating a seasoned driver at short notice will have Mercedes reevaluating its options after 2021.
Team principal Toto Wolff shot down any suggestions of a ‘showdown’ between Russell and Bottas this weekend. However, he did hint at Russell getting a seat at the German team if he delivers.
Should Russell do the unimaginable and end up winning the Sakhir race or clinch a podium, there’s no doubt of Mercedes seriously considering the British Driver beyond 2021. Having completed 77 races, Bottas’ main contribution over the past few years is being Hamilton’s wingman.
The Finn is undoubtedly one of the best drivers on the grid, but he’s not the next Lewis Hamilton for Mercedes. Pairing Russell with Hamilton gives the 22-year-old a chance to learn alongside the best in the business and ultimately take over as lead driver.
That fits quite well into the Mercedes masterplan for world domination, but what of the newly crowned World Champion?
The season’s nearly over and the seven-time World Champion hasn’t announced his plans for next year. However, it’s widely expected for the Brit to stay on at Mercedes simply because both parties need each other and logically it’s a no-brainer.
However, Hamilton’s contract delay gives Mercedes a chance to review the reigning World Champion’s contract differently. At least, that’s what Red Bull boss Horner believes.
“It benchmarks him against Valtteri. I’m sure Toto’s looking to use it to perhaps negotiate Lewis’s contract in some way, shape, or form. So it will be fascinating to see how it plays out, but it’s great to see another youngster getting that chance and opportunity,” Horner said.
Having Russell as the next big thing diminishes a part of Hamilton’s aura as the irreplaceable messiah at Mercedes. Moreover, the upcoming cost cap and the salary cap will play on Wolff’s mind as he chalks out a deal.
It’s unlikely for Mercedes to consider Russell instead of Hamilton next year, but the young Brit’s an important bargaining chip for now.
As interesting as these hypothetical scenarios seem, they’re all contingent on George holding his nerve on Sunday. Will the British driver exceed expectations and cement the start of a new legacy?