Among all the events happening in the tightly scheduled Formula-1 over the past couple of weeks, the inevitable news finally broke that George Russell has signed as a Mercedes Driver for 2022 and beyond. "Mr. Saturday" will drive alongside Lewis Hamilton in an F1 season where all the teams anticipate significant changes due to regulations, cost caps, and design modifications.
Why is Russell preferred over Bottas?
George Russell is Mercedes' Young Academy Program driver, and Toto Wolff has mentioned on multiple occasions that Russell will be the one to lead the team when Hamilton eventually retires from F1. This decision, however, has many more complexities than that. While Russell and Bottas raced only once in the same team, it was clear that Russell could quickly adapt to a new team and even outperform his teammate. Russell nearly out qualified Bottas, took the lead in the race around the first corner and drove through the field in the latter part of the race after a horrendous pit stop. Had it not been for a puncture, in the end, Russell would have nearly won the race as well.
Russell has consistently performed on Saturdays at the highest levels, even in more challenging and wet conditions. He also has a genuine racecraft that will make him very useful when Mercedes are planning to split strategies amongst their drivers in 2022.
What should George expect at Mercedes?
George has been a great addition to F1, and with other young talents on the grid like Norris, Leclerc and Verstappen, this is an excellent platform for him to set the future of this sport alongside them. Few out-of-the-ordinary performances at Williams have now turned into massive wildfires, with Russell consistently pushing beyond the limits of his car.
But Russell should also bid his time. Hamilton will inevitably retire from the sport soon, and amongst all the drivers evaluated out of their Young Drivers' Program, Russell is the right choice to lead this team in the future. Russell should play a long game thinking about the environment he is stepping into and the team's future.
Another important and more critical aspect of learning for Russell is the team dynamics he will be stepping into. Russell has always been the lead performer of the team ever since he started driving. He will be driving alongside Hamilton, who can and will be in a position to outperform Russell on multiple occasions. Russell should also accept a few "seconds" (no pun intended) instead of taking unnecessary risks.
What can we expect at Mercedes?
While Hamilton is undoubtedly the greatest F1 driver, Russell has been vocal about his hunger to win and become world champion someday. These dynamics could create another Hamilton-Alonso or Hamilton-Rosberg at Mercedes, which they have not worried about since Bottas joined the team.
Mercedes will clearly need to prioritize their strategies with both drivers, with new regulations coming in for 2022, modified cars and tight budget caps. In a season that may follow in 2022 as unpredictable and close as the 2021 season, Mercedes and Toto Wolff will have a crucial role in managing team dynamics and forcing their competitors into making mistakes rather than repeating the 2016 season yet again.