What are the Expectations for Russell at Mercedes?
George Russell will join Mercedes in the 2022 Formula One season to replace Valtteri Bottas at the German outfit, creating an all-British driving pair alongside Lewis Hamilton. The 23-year-old has been touted as the next great F1 driver to emerge from the United Kingdom and displayed a glimpse of his talent in the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix to claim his first podium finish.
Russell is nowhere near contending for the Drivers’ Championship crown, with Max Verstappen locked in as the favourite to win the title for the first time at 8/13 in the F1 betting odds. Russell must aspire to that standard sooner rather than later, and he will be thrown into the deep end when he takes over the second seat at Mercedes from Bottas in 2022.
There will be a high level of expectation for the Brit to compete with Verstappen for the crown, matching the exploits of Hamilton in the one seat. Whether his team-mate will enjoy the extra competition is up for debate as he experienced an intense rivalry with Nico Rosberg in the 2016 campaign, which was in danger of boiling over at times, despite both representing Mercedes.
It is a different time now, and Hamilton is closer to the end of his career rather than at the peak when he and Rosberg duelled it out. Mercedes will be pushing for a succession plan beyond Hamilton’s tenure with the team. At the age of 36, Hamilton cannot be expected to go on forever, although he has set targets of becoming the most decorated driver in the history of Formula One. Verstappen and even Russell could provide a severe obstacle to that goal, and at first, Hamilton may want Russell to take a backseat in the mould of Bottas over the last five seasons before he bows out.
Bottas joined Mercedes in 2017 after the retirement of Rosberg. Before signing with the German outfit, the Finn had never previously won a Grand Prix and boasted only nine podium finishes to his name. He was a solid driver with Williams, but not one that was expected to push Hamilton. Over the course of his career with Mercedes, he has matched the pre-move expectations. The Finn has been solid but has failed to provide a great deal of excitement, unlike his predecessor. He has been a good team-mate to Hamilton and has enjoyed fleeting success such as his excellent start to the 2019 season, where it looked as though he could challenge the Brit before fading away.
Russell should be more ambitious with the potential of displacing Hamilton from the one seat. He does not have the experience or the accomplishments behind the wheel that Bottas possessed before his move. Therefore, it will be curious to see how he performs in the early stages of his move.
There will be pressure on him to hit the ground running to prove that he belongs at Mercedes. The German outfit will expect him to be on the path to challenging Verstappen and Hamilton for the Drivers’ Championship before too long unlike the man he is displacing in the ranks.