Viewpoint: Mercedes face difficult decisions after Russell’s Sakhir GP drive
It was almost too good to be true. George Russell was right on the money from the word go as he filled in for seven times Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton at the Sakhir GP.
The 22-year old from Kings Lynn topped both sessions on Friday and got within 26-miliseconds of Valtteri Bottas’s pole time on his debut in the 2020 Mercedes F1 car. After being called up at the last minute, the Briton had to wear size ten shoes to fit in the footwell, and at six foot one inch, he was sitting significantly higher than his team-mate in the car itself.
When it came to the race, Russell aced the start and took the lead from his team-mate down into the first corner. He then built up a two to three second gap which he managed until the pitstop and extended that gap on the hard tires until everything started to go wrong.
It was clear that everything was not perfect as Russell was still having to ask the pit wall about which buttons to press after a suspected problem with the power unit. And after qualifying, he had to confirm which switch turned the car off which makes itall the more extraordinary the job he was able to do.
Then when Mercedes corrected their mistake and Russell was put onto a new set of mediums, he was fired up. From fifth place, he passed Bottas around the outside of turn six into turns 7/8 in what will surely be one of the signature moves of the season. After that he glided past Racing Point’s Lance Stroll and Esteban Ocon in the Renault to be within touching distance of the win before he picked up a puncture.
Admittedly, Bottas had the same tires on his car that he had had since his first pitstop, but the confidence that Russell had in the Mercedes that he first stepped into for FP1 compared to the Finn’s four years of experience was something extraordinary.
It might not be fair to judge Bottas against Russell in this way, but as Toto Wolff said after the Sakhir GP, it is pretty clear that ‘a new star is born.’
With that in mind, Bottas has taken nine Grand Prix victories and 16 pole positions since he joined the team in 2017.
In the preceding four years that Nico Rosberg was Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate, not only did the German win the 2016 World Championship, but he achieved 22 Grand Prix victories and 29 pole positions.
If anything, this comparison is better than it looks as Mercedes did not have the championship-winning car in 2013 in the first year that Rosberg and Hamilton were together.
So if Hamilton resigns for Mercedes, it is obvious that George Russell should be the man by his side. The 22-year old Brit is clearly the future, but it is likely that he would give the seven-times champion a run for his money.
While Mercedes have already confirmed their ties with Bottas for 2021, as we have seen this year with Perez and many times in F1, a contract is only there to be broken. After giving Russell a chance to shine, if the silver arrows are not careful, Red Bull could well sign him up for next season given the mire their second driver is in…