George Russell is confirmed to make his Mercedes debut in this weekend’s Sakhir GP as Jack Aitken will make his F1 debut for Williams.
After it was announced that Lewis Hamilton had returned a positive test result for COVID-19, and would consequently miss the Sakhir Grand Prix, there was speculation abound surrounding who might replace the Brit, with multiple names on board.
Initial rumors suggested that Mercedes Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne could fill the spot, but later it was learned that Williams’ Russell was in contention for the seat, and the promising sophomore driver emerged as a front-runner.
The 22-year-old has a Formula 2 title from 2018 to his name, and though he has made nine Q2 appearances in an underperforming Williams, points have eluded him. That’s not to say Russell hasn’t come close, though: at Imola he ran in the top ten until a crash under the safety car ended his race, and twice he has finished eleventh in his 36-race career.
His move to Mercedes for the Sakhir GP, left an open seat at Williams, which went to its reserve and Formula 2’s Jack Aitken. The British-Korean would have to leave his F2 seat with Campos Racing for the weekend to make his F1 debut.
“Firstly, I want to say a huge thank you to everybody at Williams for giving me this opportunity,” said Russell. “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.”
At the same time, the new Williams F1 driver, Aitken added: “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 Russell to have his chance too.
“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.”
On the team side, Williams’ team principal Simon Roberts, said: “Our long-term partnership and George’s affiliation with Mercedes is no secret, and so I’m delighted George Russell has this unique opportunity to join Mercedes, the current Constructors’ Champions. 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. 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.”
And finally, Toto Wolff added: “First and foremost, I wish to thank our loyal partners at Williams for their collaboration and open-mindedness in making it possible for George to race for Mercedes this weekend. The conversations with the team at Williams were positive and pragmatic, and those were the key factors in reaching an agreement.
“It will not be a straightforward task for George to make the transition from the Williams to the W11, but he is race-ready and has detailed understanding of the 2020 tyres and how they perform on this generation of cars. George has shown impressive form this year with Williams, playing an instrumental role in their climb up the grid, and I am optimistic that he will deliver a strong performance alongside Valtteri, who will be a demanding reference for him.
“This race will mark a small milestone for us, as we see a member of our Junior programme compete for the works Mercedes team for the first time. We have a job to do this weekend, and the full focus of our sporting efforts will be behind Valtteri and George in order to maximise our points score as a team. But, of course, our thoughts are also with Lewis, and we will be supporting him as much as we can to make a rapid recovery during his period of self-isolation.”
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