Williams on Tuesday announced that they have sealed a landmark agreement with Mercedes with the Formula One world champions and the grid’s backmarkers expanding their technical collaboration – but it is a deal that George Russell may not end up seeing the full benefit of.
Williams run with Mercedes power units and the two teams have worked closely together since 2014, with the Silver Arrows’ junior driver Russell driving for Williams since 2018.
Their relationship was best demonstrated by Williams allowing Russell to return to Mercedes at the Sakhir Grand Prix to replace Lewis Hamilton, who was absent with COVID-19, in early December.
The 23-year-old produced a brilliant drive and was twice cruelly denied victory by a team pitstop error and a puncture, leaving him devastated with his head in his hands post-race.
But since then, the two teams have been in regular discussions about Williams using Mercedes parts – particularly gearboxes – to cut costs under their new owners, with the agreement that saw Russell loaned out allowing talks to accelerate.
Williams have traditionally always fully constructed their cars in-house but will now utilise components from their Brackley-based rivals to free up money elsewhere.
It comes with the struggling team’s previous owners, the Williams family of Frank and Claire, selling to Dorilton Capital back in August.
The Grove outfit’s change of ownership comes with need for a rethink given they have picked up just eight points across the last three full F1 seasons and didn’t manage a single point in 2020.
Their best results last year came with Nicholas Latifi coming 11th in Austria, Italy and Portugal, the same finish Russell managed in Tuscany.
Russell was in the running for points at the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix but slammed into the wall under the Safety Car to throw away a 10th-placed finish.
Yet the young Brit still enjoyed a positive year overall and picked up the first points of his F1 career with Mercedes although he had to settle for ninth rather than first.
But despite the deal between his current employers and his future team, Russell is perhaps unlikely to be able to take the entire advantage.
The deal will only come into effect from 2022, when Russell’s contract with Williams runs out after what will have been three seasons.
His current team would surely love to pen him to a new deal from then on but ultimately Russell’s future will be decided by Mercedes.
Lewis Hamilton is out of contract at the moment but the seven-time world champion should sign a multiple-season deal to stay on with the constructors’ champions.
But Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who Russell outshone in Bahrain, is out of contract at the end of the 2021 season and if the Finn does not improve against the Brit, could find his seat up for grabs.
Russell is well placed to rival Bottas for a drive alongside Hamilton provided he maintains the kind of form he has already shown, having never been out-qualified by Latifi while in a Williams.
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And it is entirely possible that by the time Williams get the most out of their ties with Mercedes, although they may well begin sharing information as early as the new season in March, Russell may have made the step up.
That decision will be made by Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who will field plenty of questions about the futures of Bottas and Russell over the next 12 months.
“I think it’s continuing the form, and continuing the positive attitude internally with the team and externally,” Russell said when asked what he must do in 2021 to earn a 2022 race seat with Mercedes.
“It’s not getting frustrated with the poor performance here, and continuing to try to push Williams further forward.
“I think Mercedes believe in me, they have given me the opportunity and they have always had my back.
“Now it’s sort of my duty that I stay true and that I don’t suddenly change over the course of next year because of certain circumstances, and turn into something that I’m not currently.”
More of the same of 2020 and Russell will surely displace Bottas.
And so the benefits of Williams using Mercedes parts and dedicating extra funds to other areas of their development may only come when Russell is already racing with Hamilton, Wolff and co.
But then if he is in championship contention alongside Hamilton, the former F2 and GP3 Series champion might not be so bothered anyway.
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