'Nobody can replace Lewis' admits Mercedes-bound Russell

© XPB 

George Russell may be keeping the world champion's seat warm this weekend, but he's the first to admit that no one can truly replace Lewis Hamilton.

Hamilton has been ruled out of this weekend's Sakhir Grand Prix after testing positive for coronavirus on Monday, the first race he will have missed in his F1 career. It's not known whether he'll be able to take part in the final race the following week.

In the meantime, the Williams F1 team has agreed to release Russell to step into the breach, handing Jack Aitken his F1 debut as a result.

"Unbelievably grateful," Russell posted on social media after the official announcement was made. "Very few people are lucky enough to drive for an F1 team each year. I'm about to get the chance to drive for two.

“Firstly I want to say a huge thank you to everybody at Williams for giving me this opportunity," the 22-year-old said on Wednesday in a statement released by the team.

"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.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said that talks with Williams about securing Russell's services in Sakhir had been "positive and pragmatic".

"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,: he said.

Russell has made 36 race starts since his F1 debut in Australia in 2019, but he has yet to pick up any championship points despite some stunning performances for Williams in qualifying.

He was 12th in last weekend's race in Bahrain. Although F1 returns to the same venue for the next race it will be held on the very different 'outer loop' configuration which is being used for the first time.

The news was warmly received by leading figures in the F1 paddock in Bahrain, including Russell's good friend Lando Norris who currently drives for McLaren.

"Happy for you! Perfect man for the job," Norris posted on Twitter on Wednesday morning. "Now I’m gonna have to be the one defending from you hahah!"

And Sky Sports F1 commentator Martin Brundle was also delighted by the latest developments.

"This is going to make for another cracking race not to be missed this coming weekend," the former F1 driver posted. "Wishing Lewis all the very best of course and that George will enjoy this golden opportunity.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 on the grid.

The emergence of Russell as Hamilton's replacement this weekend means a snub for that long time reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne who currently races for Mercedes in the Formula E championship.

It also suggests that Russell is on-track for a permanent promotion to Mercedes once his current contract at Williams expires at rthe end of 2021.

Valtteri Bottas recently signed another one-year extension to remain at Brackley, while Hamilton himself is yet to sign a new contract with the team beyond the end of the current season.

"Russell is certainly someone Mercedes see as a potential long-term replacement for Lewis Hamilton," Sky Sports News reported Craig Slater said. "Maybe as team leader if Hamilton decides to step away from F1 at some point in the next few years.

"He has spent a couple of years with Williams, having won the GP2 championship, and driven brilliantly. He's out-qualified his team-mate 36 times in a row.

"But because he's in the back-marking car he hasn't been able to claim any points, so this was a real opportunity for Mercedes to give him a try out.

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