MOGYOROD: In this file photo taken on August 1, 2021, Williams’ British driver George Russell looks on during a ‘We Race As One’ ceremony ahead of the Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix at the Hungaroring race track in Mogyorod near Budapest. – AFP

LONDON: George Russell was confirmed as Lewis Hamilton’s new teammate at Formula One team Mercedes for next season yesterday after Valtteri Bottas sealed a switch to Alfa Romeo. The 23-year-old British driver earned his much-anticipated move to the Silver Arrows, with whom he has signed a long-term deal, after catching the eye during three years with Williams.

He also impressed in a one-off appearance for Mercedes at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix as a stand-in for seven-time world champion Hamilton, who had tested positive for coronavirus. Russell, who will form an all-British line-up with Hamilton, said it was a “special day”. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t absolutely buzzing,” he said in a Mercedes statement. “It’s a huge opportunity and one I want to grab with both hands. But I’m under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge. It’s going to be a steep learning curve.”

He added: “I’ve looked up to Lewis since I was in go-karts and the opportunity to learn from someone who has become a role model both on and off track can only benefit me as a driver, a professional, and a human being.” Hamilton, who is currently second in this year’s driver standings, three points behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, welcomed his future teammate. “Through hard work he has rightly earned his spot,” tweeted the 37-year-old reigning world champion, who on Monday paid a warm tribute to the departing Bottas. “I look forward to seeing him grow as a driver with this great team and working with him to raise @MercedesAMGF1 higher. See you next year.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said it had not been a straightforward decision, praising Bottas for his contribution to the team’s success over the past five seasons. “Looking forward to 2022, we are very happy to confirm that George will have the opportunity to take the next step in his career and join Mercedes,” he added.

“He has been a winner in every racing category — and the past three seasons with Williams have given us a taste of what the future could hold for him in F1. Now, it is our challenge together to help him continue learning within our environment and alongside Lewis, the greatest F1 driver of all time.”

Bottas, 32, has spent the past five seasons alongside Hamilton at Mercedes, having replaced Nico Rosberg, who retired after winning the 2016 title. The Finn has won nine races and claimed 17 pole positions with the team but has not consistently been able to challenge Hamilton. Alfa Romeo announced on Monday that Bottas had signed a multi-year deal to join the team from 2022.

Alpha Tauri retains drivers
Elsewhere, Alpha Tauri announced yesterday that Japanese youngster Yuki Tsunoda and Frenchman Pierre Gasly will stay with the team for the 2022 Formula One season. The 21-year-old Tsunoda has impressed in his rookie season, winning 18 points with a best finish of sixth at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Gasly has been with Alpha Tauri since joining in 2017, except for a short stint with sister team Red Bull in 2019.

“I have a very good relationship with Pierre. I have learnt a lot from him already this year and his experience has helped me to keep developing my own skills, so it’s great to be continuing my F1 journey with him,” said Tsunoda. Next season will see the introduction of new regulations in F1 which are expected to give the smaller teams a chance of closing the gap to the recent front-runners.

“Consistency and stability are crucial heading into the new era of F1, with the introduction of the 2022 regulations,” said Alpha Tauri in a statement. “The team believes that the current duo will be able to deliver good results.” Gasly, who was dropped by Red Bull midway through the 2019 campaign, has been in excellent form since, notching three podium finishes including his maiden victory at last year’s Italian Grand Prix. “I’m very excited to see what we can accomplish in the new era of F1 and to keep working with the team as best as I can to bring us forward in the team standings,” said the 25-year-old. Gasly sits eighth in the 2021 drivers’ standings with 66 points. – AFP