Over the last two championships, George Russell has pushed a below-par Williams to its limits following his Formula 2 triumph.
Since 2017, the 22-year-old has been involved with Mercedes, earning a spot in their junior driver programme. On paper, the future of the Brackley-based constructors’ driver line-up appears somewhat straightforward.
When the seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton walks away from the sport, Russell will have gained the necessary experience to step in to replace him. However, that, of course, isn’t a guarantee. So, let’s take a look at how likely it is that Russell will drive for Mercedes.
His performances warrant a step up, but is Mercedes too much too soon?
At the time of writing, Russell has yet to get his first point on the board in F1. That said, he has spent the bulk of the 2020 championship getting his Williams into the second phase of qualifying. Although this may not sound like much of an achievement, it’s a significant step forward for a struggling Williams team.
Despite impressing with the iconic racing team, there can be no doubts that the step up to Mercedes is sizeable. While Russell undoubtedly possesses the raw speed to compete, it’s not unfair to suggest that he needs a stint in a mid-grid car before driving for the seven-time constructors’ champions.
An indication that the Brackley-based team may hold off on Russell is evident from Esteban Ocon’s situation over the past few years. Similarly to the Englishman, the Renault racer has ties to Mercedes as he is their current reserve driver, despite being contracted to the French manufacturer.
Ahead of the 2020 championship, Ocon claimed that he was “very close” to replacing Valtteri Bottas, but Toto Wolff instead decided to retain the Finnish driver. Although Mercedes have a youth programme in place, they’re yet to call on their up-and-coming racers, despite having the chance to do so on numerous occasions. Regarding Russell, this may perhaps mean that he’ll have to wait before getting an opportunity.
The hottest seats on the grid
At present, Lewis Hamilton is yet to sign a new deal with Mercedes, although reports suggest that progress is being made. Should the seven-time world champion continue driving for Mercedes, then both seats will be taken for the 2021 season, as Bottas recently put pen-to-paper on a one-year extension.
However, the long-term future of the team’s line-up is unclear. Given that Hamilton won’t be able to go on forever and the Finnish racer has often flattered to deceive, there may be several openings ahead of 2022.
Aside from Russell and Ocon, Mercedes may look to tempt Max Verstappen away from Red Bull in the coming years. Jolyon Palmer believes that the Dutchman is the heir to Hamilton’s success, and would take the opportunity with both hands to drive for the seven-time constructors’ winners.
On performance, pace, and race-winning ability, few can argue that Verstappen wouldn’t be a leading candidate to replace Hamilton. It’s a testament to the Red Bull driver’s consistency that, as of December 1st, he is 1/9 with F1 betting to be classified at the upcoming Sakhir Grand Prix.
Rivalry for places
Currently, a seat at Mercedes is the most sought-after spot among all drivers with championship-winning aspirations. Because of their recent success, the Brackley-based team will have their pick of drivers when a seat becomes available. Whether or not they decide to give the opportunity to Russell, however, remains to be seen.