Lewis Hamilton replacement: Mercedes explain George Russell pick as Nico Rosberg buzzing

Mercedes chief Toto Wolff insists George Russell was picked as Lewis Hamilton’s temporary stand-in because the Williams driver is “race-ready” and also familiar with the 2020 Pirelli tyres.

Russell has been released by Mercedes’ partner team Williams for this weekend, when the Sakhir Grand Prix takes place in Bahrain.

Hamilton is unable to drive having tested positive for coronavirus just days after his 11th win of the 2020 season.

His countryman Russell, 22, will become just the third Briton to drive for Mercedes after Sir Stirling Moss and Hamilton.

A member of Mercedes’ junior driver programme since 2017, the former F2 and GP3 Series champion is widely expected to get a permanent Mercedes seat in the future.

He is currently driving for Williams on a three-year contract signed in 2018 and is highly rated by the F1 constructors’ champions, though he has yet to score a point in the sport.

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Mercedes even asked about Williams’ stance on releasing Russell a year early before they confirmed that Bottas would keep his seat for 2021.

Reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne, who drives for Mercedes’ Formula E team, was an alternative option to Russell to deputise for Hamilton.

And Wolff insists Russell has been picked because he will find it easier to acclimatise alongside Valtteri Bottas for the Silver Arrows.

“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,” Wolff said in a statement.

“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.

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“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.”

British-Korean reserve Jack Aitken will take Russell’s place to make his F1 debut in the Williams.

Russell meanwhile declared: “Firstly, I want to say a huge thank you to everybody at Williams for giving me this opportunity.

“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.”

And one man delighted to see Russell get a shot in the Mercedes this weekend is 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg, the only man to deny Hamilton the title in the hybrid engine era.

The German tweeted on Tuesday night: “Petition for Mercedes to race @GeorgeRussell63 this weekend! Would be great! Most importantly though: All the best @LewisHamilton for a fast health recovery.”

And after Russell confirmed his temporary switch, declaring himself “unbelievably grateful” on Twitter, Rosberg replied: “Awesome news!!!”

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