George Russell is a wrecking ball headed Lewis Hamilton's way

British driver will join seven-time world champion at Mercedes in 2022

So it’s official. Finally. Rising superstar George Russell is to partner Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes for 2022.

In case you haven’t heard of him (where have you been?) Russell is one of the stand-out talents of the new generation along with Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc.

The move has been widely mooted since he was a last-minute replacement for the sick world champion in Bahrain last year. But for car problems he would have won, too, despite negligible testing in the most complex car in F1.

His performance was so remarkable Hamilton lurched off his sickbed to prevent Russell getting a second crack at it at Yas Marina Circuit.

Hamilton’s own place was safe, of course, but he surely wanted to prevent the 23-year-old’s speed destroying his cosy partnership with Valtteri Bottas.

After all, Bottas was fast enough for Mercedes' purposes but not quite fast enough to disturb Hamilton’s own title ambitions year after year. So the perfect teammate.

Hamilton is the not the first to try to derail another driver's arrival. Ayrton Senna did it to Derek Warwick at Lotus. Alain Prost did the same at Williams. Michael Schumacher too. Even Fernando Alonso.

What is laughable is the idea Russell and Hamilton will play nicely.

Despite everything Mercedes are saying the intention of their new driver will be to take a wrecking ball to Hamilton’s career. And Lewis knows it. His aim is the same for Russell.

Hamilton nailed double world champion Alonso when he arrived in 2007 as an unknown at McLaren and plunged into an internecine battle that cost both the drivers' championship.

The minute McLaren tried to rein in their newboy he went very public, very quickly.

Senna did the same to Prost and set a flamethrower to the Frenchman’s dreams and reputation. Until Senna arrived, Prost, 'The Professor', was being touted as the greatest ever. They no longer talk of his four titles just that he lost to Senna.

It’s the way of F1. And so it will be with Russell. In intent at least. He doesn’t (and won’t) have to be unpleasant, secretive or divisive. He just has to be fast. Damn fast. And never, ever, take a backwards step, even when the dreaded team orders are mentioned. And it will be.

Russell fired in one of the greatest qualifying laps of modern times, perhaps ever, in lashing rain in Belgium last month, outqualifying Hamilton, the Rainmeister, in a worse car on the same track on the same day.

So he has become known as 'Mr Saturday' for his qualifying performances but needs to become 'Mr Sunday', too, if he is to prosper at Mercedes.

Amid all the talk of harmony don’t forget he can play rough. He has already clashed with Bottas.

Max Verstappen has already predicted tough time ahead for Hamilton. But then he would.

Now I’m not one usually to jinx such a salivating prospect but there is one fly in the ointment: will Hamilton still be at Mercedes when Russell arrives next March, or will he retire?

The world champion has a lot to lose by going toe-to-toe with Russell and precious little to gain if he locks down title No 8 this year. His entire reputation for a start.

His new two-year contract will unquestionably have an opt-out clause.

After all, the real truth is that Russell may be taking Bottas’ seat but his speed suggests he is being groomed as Hamilton’s replacement. Not by force, of course, but evolution. Russell, though, may have other ideas.

Hamilton will be gone in the next few years and Mercedes, with its billion dollar F1 programme, need a succession plan in place.

Hamilton is undoubtedly ruminating on just this. Beating a newbie is expected of a seven-time champion. He gains nothing. But losing would cast a giant shadow over everything he has achieved.

And Russell has already provided one considerable question mark.

If a relative unknown can climb into Hamilton’s Mercedes and damn-near win his first race without any testing, that casts Hamilton’s achievements in quite a different light.

Was it that Hamilton really wasn’t such an epic racer, he just had an exceptional car and a less than average teammate?

No-one could deny Hamilton was a class act, of course, but taking on Russell may prove a more accurate yardstick for history.

Good for the history books, not necessarily for Hamilton.

Updated: September 8th 2021, 5:42 AM
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