The fact that the highly-rated George Russell only finished 18th in the Driver’s Standings is a paradox. While many had been praising the speed of the Englishman for always out-qualifying his teammates in F1, he had never had the opportunity to truly prove himself. Until Lewis fell sick in Bahrain.
Hamilton’s COVID diagnosis ruled him out of the Sakhir GP. Up step George Russell, whom Mercedes loaned from Williams, for the weekend. According to Daniel Ricciardo, that was the litmus test of his racing abilities.
“It’s hard to know how good they are until, I guess, they step up towards the front of the grid. And it’s not only to see if they are fast enough. It’s also to see if they can handle the pressure of being up the front.”
And boy, did he handle the pressure of expectations. He outclassed his more experienced teammate, Valtteri Bottas. It was as if Lewis was himself behind the wheel of the W11. Even though he did not win the race, it ultimately proved to everyone in the paddock that he is the real deal.
“He didn’t need to get pole to kind of prove if he’s got the talent. But obviously, he was so close to pole… To do it on a Saturday when it counts.
“But then actually, the more impressive thing to do for him was to get a good start, get into the lead, and to control the big part of that race,” said Ricciardo.
“He kind of proved that yes, the car is amazing. But he’s proved that he certainly is the real deal. So he’s among that group of young drivers.”
Ever since that fateful weekend in Sakhir, there are calls to give him the Mercedes race seat permanently. This has put Valtteri Bottas under tremendous pressure going into 2021.
The Finn’s contract is not beyond the next season. Looks like it’s only a matter of time before he partners Lewis and ultimately solidifies his legacy with the Silver Arrows. Certainly, for a hard-working talent like him, chances to win World Championships aren’t distant.