George Russell will get the opportunity of a lifetime when he drives the world championship-winning Mercedes W11 in this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain, as a replacement for Lewis Hamilton who tested positive for Covid-19.
Mercedes opened talks with Williams about borrowing the Briton, who has been backed by the Silver Arrows throughout his career, for the second Bahrain race when it became clear Hamilton was in isolation and would not be able to drive.
They eventually came to an arrangement, with Williams releasing Russell to drive the Silver Arrows alongside Valtteri Bottas in the penultimate round.
“Firstly, I want to say a huge thank you to everybody at Williams for giving me this opportunity. I might be wearing a different race suit this weekend, but I’m a Williams driver and I’ll be cheering my team on every step of the way.
“I see this as a great chance to learn from the best outfit on the grid right now and to come back as an improved driver, with even more energy and experience to help push Williams further up the grid. A big thank you also to Mercedes for putting their faith in me.
“Obviously, nobody can replace Lewis, but I’ll give my all for the team in his absence from the moment I step in the car. Most importantly, I wish him a speedy recovery. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity and can’t wait to get out on track this week.”
Russell has extensive experience driving for Mercedes, having completed six days of running for the world champions since 2017. His most recent run was in last year’s end-of-season Abu Dhabi test.
He made his F1 debut last year with Williams and has marked himself out as a future star with a string of strong drives and impressive qualifying performances in a lower-half-of-the-grid car.
Russell has yet to score a point, but has come close, finishing 11th once and 12th twice, and was also in contention at Imola before crashing behind the Safety Car.
His performances in qualifying have been particularly impressive, the 22-year-old unbeaten against his two team mates to-date in 36 consecutive races.
Mercedes rate Russell highly and had considered him for a seat at their team this year, only for Williams – then under different management – to choose not to consider releasing him from his three-year-deal.
“Our long-term partnership and George’s affiliation with Mercedes is no secret, and so I’m delighted George has this unique opportunity to join Mercedes, the current Constructors’ Champions, said Williams’ Acting Team Principal, Simon Roberts.
“We have been working hard to ensure that an agreement could be made with Mercedes to allow him this fantastic opportunity. George very much remains a Williams driver and we look forward to him returning to us fresh from this experience and wish him a successful race this weekend.”
Russell would also be an option to stay in the car for the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi, should Hamilton not recover in time to return to racing.
Williams reserve Jack Aitken will make his Formula 1 debut as he replaces Russell at Williams, joining regular driver Nicholas Latifi.
Aitken has experience of the Williams team and their engineers, having embedded himself in the outfit this year as part of his role, and crucially has experience of the FW43 after driving in FP1 at this year’s Styrian Grand Prix.
The 25-year-old, a former Renault junior who finished second in the 2017 GP3 series, has dovetailed his Williams duties with a third campaign in Formula 2, this year scoring two podiums and eight other points finishes.
“I’m absolutely over the moon to have the opportunity to make my debut with Williams this coming weekend and I am extremely happy for George to have his chance too,” said Aitken,
“I really mean it when I say I’ve felt very much at home here since I joined Williams earlier this year, so to get my chance to help the team try to achieve that elusive points finish is an extremely satisfying occasion to say the least.
“I’ll be doing all I can to prepare in the coming days, but truthfully, I feel like I have been ready since Melbourne. I also want to wish Lewis well in his recovery, and good luck to George getting the chance to drive the Mercedes this weekend.”
Williams Acting Team Principal Simon Roberts added: “Our long-term partnership and George’s affiliation with Mercedes is no secret, and so I’m delighted George has this unique opportunity to join Mercedes, the current Constructors’ Champions.
“We are also thrilled this means we are able to give another British talent in Jack Aitken the opportunity to make his Formula One race debut. Jack joined Williams at the start of this season, and despite COVID-19 restrictions meaning we haven’t been able to interact with him as much as we would like, he has quickly become a much-liked member of the team.
“We look forward to seeing him build on his previous experience driving the car in practice, to see what he can do in a qualifying and race situation.”