Mercedes protégé and Formula 2 Championship leader George Russell will drive with Williams Racing for the 2019 Formula 1 season.
The 20-year-old driver inked a “multi-year agreement” with the Grove squad but will continue his links with Mercedes, with whom he has been a test and reserve driver this season. The Williams team uses Mercedes’ turbo-hybrid engines and technology on a customer deal and it is assumed that Russell’s appointment comes with a reduced engine bill as a sweetener to the deal.
The British driver is part of the ‘next wave’ of talent from his country in the wake of the dominance enjoyed by his countryman Lewis Hamilton. Following success in karting, Russell made his single-seater racing debut in 2014 and won the BRDC Formula 4 Championship at his first attempt. He graduated to the FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2015 and spent two years in the category before moving up to the GP3 Series in 2017. He won the title in his rookie season with two races to spare and continued with the Art Grand Prix team to the FIA Formula 2 Championship, which he is currently leading with one round to go. Additionally, he has served as test and reserve driver for the Mercedes AMG factory Formula 1 team.
“It is a huge honour to join a team of Williams’ prestige and heritage,” said Russell.
“I would like to thank Claire [Williams, Deputy Team Principal] and everyone at Williams for their faith in making this decision, as well as Toto [Wolff, Mercedes AMG Team Principal] and the team at Mercedes for their fantastic support throughout GP3 and Formula 2.
“I am incredibly excited to start working with everyone at Grove and to take my first steps as a Formula 1 race driver. I cannot wait for Melbourne next year and to join Williams at what we all believe will be the start of an exciting new journey.”
The Williams team is enduring the worst season in its history as a constructor, in part due to a very poor chassis, instability in its technical leadership, and the decision to run the inexperienced driver pairing of Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin – selections widely panned as being due to their financial backing than actual potential.
With Stroll set to move to the Racing Point Force India team following its acquisition by his father, Russell’s signing could help turn Williams’ fortunes around next year.
“He is already highly regarded in the paddock and a driver whose career we have been watching for a while,” Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams said.
“In the time we have spent with him so far, we believe that he will be a great fit for our team; his commitment, passion and dedication is exactly what we need to drive the positive momentum building at Grove as we focus on the future.
“We are extremely excited to welcome George and working with him moving forward.”
While the identity of Russell’s 2019 teammate is yet to be confirmed, it is now even more unlikely that the Mercedes contracted Esteban Ocon will join him at the team. Instead, the Frenchman – who all but certain to lose his Force India drive at the end of the year in place of Stroll – is expected to move into the role of Mercedes’ reserve driver ahead of a return to the grid in 2020.
Despite Williams’ disastrous season and the reduction in prize money earnings that will follow, the team is set for offset those losses against a multi-million-dollar payout it will receive from the Strolls for the Canadian’s early exit from his contract. That may not be enough to put it in the best financial position and the team may be forced to use the services of a paying driver once again.
Incumbent driver Sergey Sirotkin has performed well in his rookie season against teammate Stroll but will face stiff competition from the team’s reserve driver Robert Kubica, as well as Russian compatriot and Formula 2 frontrunner Artem Markelov.
Images via FIA Formula 2 Championship and Williams Racing
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