Updated: Feb 9, 2022
Written by Morgan Holiday, Edited by Tanishka Vashee
Ever since the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020 where George Russell put on an impressive show in Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, rumours have been flying about whether or not the Williams driver will sign for Mercedes for 2022. Will Hamilton resign? Will Bottas get replaced? Who will hold the two Mercedes seats next season is a topic of great interest throughout the community.
Russell himself has made it clear that he is no longer happy to sit in the back of the pack and claims to be ready to make the step up. The question less asked, however, remains: if George Russell signs for Mercedes then who will be driving for Williams?
It’s safe to assume Nicholas Latifi won’t be going anywhere due to the financial backing he provides the team with. Who will his teammate be? Look no further than the Williams Driver Academy, which is currently home to four drivers who could all be candidates for George Russell’s seat.
Jack Aitken signed with Williams in 2020 as a development and reserve driver, participating in his first Free Practice session at the Styrian Grand Prix that year. He had his first real taste of Formula 1 later that season at the Sakhir Grand Prix, where he filled in for Russell.
It was a strong, albeit unextraordinary performance from the British-Korean driver. He qualified 18th just behind his teammate and ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Pietro Fittipaldi. He ran well in the race until lap 61 when he spun and knocked his front wing off. Barring that mistake, it was an impressive drive from someone who had only just gotten in the car.
Aitken has had some impressive moments throughout his three full seasons in FIA Formula 2, but was unable to continue into the 2021 season due to financial reasons. But after Matteo Nannini had to pull out (also due to financial reasons), he signed with HWA to race in Monaco and Baku. It is yet unsure whether Aikten will continue racing in Formula 2 this season. He is also competing in GT World Challenge Europe with Emil Frey Racing.
Although rather unlucky throughout his career, Aikten is considered to be a solid driver, and would be a strong contender for George Russell’s Williams seat.
Roy Nissany also signed with the Williams Driver Academy in 2020, returning to FIA Formula 2 for a second season after an injury saw him out of racing for the 2019 season. Nissany’s track record is unremarkable as a whole, finishing 22nd and 19th respectively in his two seasons of Formula 2. However, the Israeli driver has been given several opportunities both testing F1 cars and participating in free practice sessions, namely due to the financial backing he provides.
This financial backing comes from Chanoch Nissany, Roy’s father, who was himself an F1 test driver in 2005 with Minardi. The monetary aspect of Nissany’s involvement with Williams could be crucial in their decision about the 2022 seat. Despite already having Nicholas Latifi as a source of income, it’s no secret that Williams has struggled financially and will most likely continue to do so.
Nissany currently is competing in Formula 2 with the Dams Racing Team, achieving his first podium in the series in the first sprint race in Monaco. He currently sits 14th in the standings, ahead of his teammate Marcus Armstrong.
While Nissany isn’t the most impressive of these four drivers on paper, he could still provide the team with the help they need. His financial backing could help in creating a better car and therefore increase performance as the new regulations come into effect in 2022. Depending on what Williams’ plan is, he could very well be their choice to replace George Russell.
Easily the most notorious of the Williams development drivers, Dan Ticktum has been subject to a lot of attention in his past, for many and various reasons. From his impressive racing and being signed as a Red Bull junior driver in 2017, to being subsequently dropped by the program in 2019 and being handed a two year ban from motorsport after an incident in 2015. Ticktum has had his fair share of recognition.
Despite being widely regarded as the supervillain of Formula 2 and generally disliked by the public, no one can honestly deny that Ticktum isn’t incredibly talented. After signing with the Williams Driver Academy at the end of 2019, they cited him as one of the best simulator drivers they had ever seen.
Competing in his first full season of Formula 2 in 2020 with Dams, Ticktum achieved one win, four podiums, and an 11th place finish in the standings. He returned to Formula 2 for the 2021 season with Carlin Racing, and after the third round in Baku sits 5th in the standings with one win and four podiums.
Ticktum has publicly stated that this season is his last opportunity to reach Formula 1 due to financial reasons, hoping to finish high enough in the standings to get the attention of the Williams team and solidify himself as their choice, should they be looking for a second driver. If Williams is looking for a driver with the raw pace and talent to deliver good results, Ticktum is the obvious pick. The question is whether they can handle his reputation and tendency to lash out on the radio.
Jamie Chadwick is the only driver to have won a racing series as a member of the Williams Driver Academy, as the reigning W Series champion. She is a standout performer among the current female single seater drivers, and the one closest to a Formula 1 seat currently.
Chadwick signed with the Williams Driver Academy in 2019 following her second race in W Series, having already scored a win and two poles. In 2021 Chadwick will race again for W Series, and is also competing in Extreme E with Veloce Racing, with a podium already under her belt after the first two rounds.
Chadwick would be the first female driver to race in Formula 1 since Giovanna Amati in 1992. Choosing to sign her for the 2022 season would undoubtedly attract the attention of sponsors that Williams would definitely need, along with a huge amount of media coverage.
Whether or not George Russell will leave Williams at the end of 2021 is still unknown. But should he make the step up to Mercedes, the team has a difficult decision to make. But they can rest assured that they have all their bases covered in their four junior drivers. Whether they want dependability, money, talent, or inclusivity, they have options. Which they will choose, we’ll have to wait and see.