George Russell will replace Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for the Sakhir Grand Prix this weekend, following the news that Hamilton has tested positive for the coronavirus. Williams reserve driver Jack Aitken will take up Russell’s seat at Williams.
Mercedes turned to its partner Williams for a suitable stand-in for Hamilton, giving Russell an incredible opportunity at the wheel of the fastest car on the F1 grid.
“Firstly, I want to say a huge thank you to everybody at Williams for giving me this opportunity,” Russell said. “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.”
Although 22-year-old Russell has yet to score a point since entering F1 with Williams in 2019, he has garnered a reputation as one of the most reliable drivers on the grid, and one with huge potential. The 2017 GP3 Champion and 2018 F2 Champion has outqualified his team-mates at every single F1 race, a total of 36 qualifying sessions (against former team-mate Robert Kubica and current team-mate Nicholas Latifi). That ties him with Nelson Piquet on the list of all-time outqualifying streaks, behind only Ayrton Senna (44) and Michael Schumacher (56).
“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,” commented Mercedes F1 Team Principal and CEO Toto Wolff.
“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.”
At Williams, meanwhile, reserve driver and current F2 racer Jack Aitkin will make his F1 debut. The former Renault Academy driver simultaneously joined the Williams Driver Academy and became the team’s reserve driver at the start of 2020.
“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 to have his chance too,” said Aitken.
“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.”