Mercedes’ new recruit Russell at home in the big leagues

Briton George Russell said he was able to get straight down to business with new team Mercedes ahead of his first season as a full-time race driver for the reigning Formula One constructors’ champions.

The 24-year-old, who spent the last three years learning the ropes at power unit customer Williams, has been handed the break of a lifetime at a team that has won the last eight titles.

He is being groomed to be their next world champion with Lewis Hamilton, 37, out of contract at the end of 2023.

The media attention will be on a different level to what Russell has experienced so far but the Briton, who very nearly won on his debut for Mercedes as a stand-in for Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, on Friday played down the magnitude of the move. 

“It doesn’t even feel like a transition period, it just feels like I am with a team who I’ve been with over these past years,” he said at the launch of the team’s 2022 car.

“It was only recently I realised I’ve actually driven a Mercedes F1 car every single year since 2017 so I do really feel immersed with these guys,” said Russell, who has been supported by Mercedes since 2017.

Like any ambitious young driver, Russell will be relishing the opportunity to measure himself against statistically the greatest driver the sport has seen. But he said such thoughts were far from his mind, especially in an era of new rules.

“It’s something I have not even thought about to be honest,” he said. “We can’t focus too much on each other because things are constantly changing.

“We hope Mercedes will still be the fastest team … but there’s no guarantees and we need to not be naive to that, work together to ensure that we are.”

Hamilton, who made his Formula One debut alongside reigning double world champion Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2007, said he understood the position Russell was in.

“I know also what it’s like for him being … up against a world champion,” said Hamilton. “I know the pressures that come with it, the expectations and also the internal feelings of what it’s like.”

“He was already a part of our team, so I’ve seen him around our engineering,” he said.

“So he … fits the position like a glove.”

(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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