George Russell will replace Lewis Hamilton at this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix after the seven-time world champion tested positive for Covid-19.
It’s the first time Hamilton will miss a race in his career, but it represents a huge opportunity for Russell to show what he can do behind the wheel of the best car on the grid.
Russell said: “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 Mercedes Team Principal and CEO Toto Wolff also commented on the news, saying: “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.
“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.
“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.”
As soon as news surfaced that Hamilton had contracted the virus, speculation over who would replace him for the duration of his absence became rife.
Attention immediately turned to this season’s ‘super-sub’ Nico Hulkenberg before it appeared to become a two-horse race between Mercedes reserve driver, Stoffel Vandoorne, and Mercedes junior driver, Russell.
The anxious wait for a final decision drew more than a few funny tweets, including this one from Jenson Button, who had a similar conversation with Fernando Alonso when he took over from the Spaniard for the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix.
— Jenson Button (@JensonButton) December 1, 2020
In the end, it was 22-year-old Russell who got the nod to the delight of the vast majority who have been impressed by what he has achieved driving for Williams. Many see him as Hamilton’s natural successor, so it will be intriguing to see how the battle with Bottas unfolds.
Nobody can replace this guy, but I'll give my all for the team in his absence from the moment I step in the car.
Get well soon Lewis 🙏 pic.twitter.com/2fKTmbmaU0
— George Russell (@GeorgeRussell63) December 2, 2020
And what of the vacant Williams seat? That will be filled by 25-year-old Jack Aitken, who is understandably delighted at the prospect of making his Formula 1 debut.
He said: “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!
“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.”
It won’t be Aitken’s first time behind the wheel of an F1 car. The Formula 2 driver took to the track for Williams during the first practice session of this season’s Styrian Grand prix, but this represents a big step up for the British driver.
This weekend’s Sakhir GP promises to be unmissable. Let us know how you think the replacement drivers will get on by leaving a comment or dropping us a tweet.