Charles Leclerc urges Mercedes to axe Valtteri Bottas for ‘special’ George Russell

F1: George Russell hikes during the off-season

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George Russell’s former karting team mate has described the British driver as “special” and backed him to replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes next year. Speculation is rife that Russell, 23, will be lining up alongside Lewis Hamilton next season, with Toto Wolff admitting the decision had already been made privately. And now Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc has joined the growing number of voices backing Russell to shine if he joins the current Constructors’ champions.

Leclerc, who was in the news earlier this week for saying spectators at the rain-affected Belgian Grand Prix should be reimbursed, said it was clear from a young age that Russell was “extremely talented.”

Speaking ahead of this week’s Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort, he said: “I’ve actually been team mates with George.

“It was a long time ago in karting – and I think what I’ve seen of him since that time is that he’s just extremely talented, and every time he got into the kart back then, or the car now, he’s just quick straight away. So his talent makes him special.

“If he goes to Mercedes next year – and I hope he does because I think he deserves a chance there – I’m pretty sure that he will perform very, very well and impress more than one person.”

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Russell himself heads into the weekend off the back of a first ever F1 podium in Belgium, producing a stunning qualifying display to line up second on the grid behind Max Verstappen and ahead of potential race partner Hamilton.

That position duly became his final one after only two safety car-led laps were possible on Sunday – enough for half-points to be awarded and a podium ceremony to take place.

The prospect of him joining Mercedes could yet mean a straight swap with Bottas, although the Finnish driver has also been heavily linked with a move to Alfa Romeo to replace countryman Kimi Raikkonen. The 2007 F1 world champion has announced that he will retire at the conclusion of the 2021 season.

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Russell did actually race for Mercedes in Sakhir last year, standing in for Hamilton after he tested positive for Covid-19, finishing ninth after suffering a slow puncture.

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And his current Williams team mate, Nicholas Latifi, said there was much more to him than prowess in qualifying.

“Being team mates with him currently, and in recent times, I know first-hand exactly how quick he is,” said the 26-year-old.

“I think to the public, the Saturday performances are quite stand-out, and I obviously see from behind the scenes on the data how quick he is exactly in those scenarios.

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“But I think besides the actual raw speed he has, his ability to always put everything together on that crucial moment, that lap that counts, is very impressive,” added Latifi.

“Managing little details in the race and a lot of peripheral things he’s very, very strong at. I think if he does go to Mercedes, we already saw what he was capable of doing last year in Bahrain, so I have no doubts he’ll be on the pace straight away.”

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