George Russell 'gutted' to miss out on Sakhir GP victory
One-time Formula One world champion Damon Hill believes that British hopeful George Russell is set for an illustrious career in the sport after impressing on his Mercedes debut at the beginning of December. The 22-year-old was drafted in to replace Lewis Hamilton at the Sahkir Grand Prix, who was ruled out of the weekend’s action after returning a positive coronavirus test the previous week.
Russell passed team-mate and pole sitter Valtteri Bottas on the opening lap and fought at the front of the grid for much of the race at the Bahrain International Circuit, but saw his efforts curtailed through no fault of his own by a pit-stop calamity and a late slow puncture.
The Norfolk-born driver, who has been a member of the junior driver programme at Mercedes for some time, was widely praised for his performance in the car during the aftermath.
Hill has claimed that Russell’s talents are so strong that he will surely be chosen to replace Hamilton on a permanent basis once the seven-time champion decides to retire from the sport.
“For me, that was the race George Russell substituted for Lewis Hamilton,” Hill told the In The Pink podcast.
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“I’m sorry for Lewis and Valtteri, but at that point a star was born. He was given a golden opportunity and did a great job, but unfortunately it didn’t end well. But he did show what he’s capable of.”
Russell has established himself as one of Formula One’s most promising young talents despite spending his career to date, with the exception of one race, at backmarkers Williams.
Despite his team’s struggles in recent years, the 22-year-old has proved his worth by qualifying ahead of team-mates Robert Kubica and Nicholas Latifi at every single Grand Prix.
Russell managed to reach Q2 on a number of occasions in 2020, a formidable achievement given the historic British outfit’s current lack of ability to compete.
He committed his immediate future to Williams earlier this month, quashing rumours that he could be given a seat at Mercedes next season in place of Bottas, who has come under scrutiny for his failure to challenge Hamilton.
The speculation arrived after Russell claimed following the Sakhir Grand Prix that he hoped to give Mercedes boss Toto Wolff a selection headache for 2022, or ‘maybe sooner’.
“Yeah, that was just a throwaway remark in the heat of the moment,” Russell explained ahead of the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi. “Obviously emotions were high and what have you. But yeah, ultimately I have a contract and I’m a Williams driver for 2021.”
The young driver also revealed his respect for Mercedes and their attention to detail, which has proved essential in maintaining their competitive advantage year on year.
“The guys at Mercedes work at such a high level in absolutely every single detail,” Russell continued. “And they leave no stone unturned and that pays dividends. This is why they are the best and this is why they are dominating.”
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