Written by Gabrian Cornelis, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
Image Credit: Peter J Fox/Getty Images
George Russell is, without a doubt, one of the best drivers on the grid. In his journey to Formula One, Russell has had success in most of the racing categories that he competed in, most notably the BRDC F4 Championship, GP3 Series title, and the F2 Title. This makes it clear that Russell was always destined to compete at the highest level of motorsport, Formula One. In the past, there have been several young drivers like Russell who have won a lot of junior racing championships, but when given the all-important seat in Formula One, they have failed to prove their worth. In Russell’s case, the hype and expectations were justified. During his three-year stint at Williams Racing, Russell outperformed the car frequently, more than anybody could have imagined. The peak of his Willams career was in 2021, when he managed to score 16 points with the slowest car on the grid. Moreover, how can we not remember his performance at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, when he put his Williams car on the front row of the grid alongside Max Verstappen, with a lap for the ages. Following a brilliant stint for Williams, it was a no-brainer for Toto Wolff to replace Valtteri Bottas with Russell for the 2022 season. For a man of his calibre and talent, Russell deserves to drive for a top team like Mercedes AMG Petronas, but he would be driving alongside a veteran of the sport, seven-time winner of the World Drivers' Championship, Lewis Hamilton.
Even before the 2022 season started, a number of questions were posed regarding George Russell. One of them was: can he beat Lewis Hamilton in his first season as a Mercedes driver? Well, at the beginning of the season, Russell was outperforming Hamilton regularly. In the first eight races, Russell managed to out score Hamilton by 37 points. On top of that, he had even out-qualified Hamilton five times. After the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the seven-time world champion started to pick up his pace, and showed Russell his fighting spirit. In the period of five races, starting from the Canadian Grand Prix until the Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton managed to finish on the podium and ahead of Russell consistently. Watching Hamilton from a distance, breaking one record after another, or performing miracles on track, is a different experience compared to driving alongside him. After a comfortable start as a teammate to Hamilton, Russell is now beginning to understand his greatness.
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From Hamilton’s perspective, it’s been a while since he had a teammate so closely matched to himself. Back when Valtteri Bottas was his teammate, we rarely saw Hamilton struggle against him. Bottas matched Hamilton closely in qualifying, but come race day, he was no match for the Briton’s pace. Moreover, at the end of the 2018 season, Bottas revealed in an interview with Eurosport that he had considered quitting Formula One. The reason for this being, he put in a lot of effort in his initial years as a Mercedes driver, and still couldn’t beat Hamilton. Eventually, Bottas kept trying until last season, but mentally knew beating Lewis was impossible. With George Russell, we see a young talented man, full of ambition to become a world champion. Before signing the contract with Mercedes, Russell knew what he was getting into. And from my perspective, Russell will not accept the idea that Hamilton will destroy him easily week-in, week-out. In Hamilton’s case, having a young teammate hungry for success is good for him. It is not because he still needs to prove something to the world as he is already one of the all-time greats of Formula One. But because he has already achieved almost everything in this sport, having a teammate like Russell will give him the extra motivation to push on. For instance, should Hamilton manage to beat Russell at the end of this season, he will once again show the world that he is still in his prime. On the contrary, should Russell manage to beat Hamilton this season, Hamilton will give it everything to beat Russell next year. Either way, both scenarios will lead to both drivers increasing their performance, benefiting them individually, as well as the team.
Finally, from the explanations above, it can be said that Russell is indeed the perfect teammate for Hamilton at this stage of his career. All Mercedes or Hamilton fans once again must thank Toto Wolff. He knew that since Nico Rosberg retired, Hamilton was never challenged by his teammate. Even though there is a risk of both drivers having collisions in their eagerness to beat one another, Wolff knew that giving his veteran driver a fresh challenge would eventually benefit Mercedes as a team.