The 2020 season is almost over, there are only two races left when Lewis Hamilton becomes infected with the corona virus. He has to go into isolation. Actually, it would now be the turn of Stoffel Vandoorne. The Belgian is the regular substitute driver for the Mercedes Formula 1 team. But at the Sakhir Grand Prix at the beginning of December, he wasn’t taking over the cockpit of the seven-time world champion. The racing team’s gaze has long been directed at someone else.
Instead of his Williams, George Russell sits in the car of the ten centimeter smaller Hamilton, wears his shoes and uses his steering wheel. In the decisive qualifying lap, he is only a thousandths of a second slower than Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas, whom Russell overtook at the start, after which he would have even won the Grand Prix if it had not been for a mistake when changing tires. Look here, I can! You can hardly position yourself more clearly.
Almost nine months later, Russell tells before the Italian Grand Prix (Sunday, 3 p.m., Sky / RTL) how long he has known that his outing from then will become a permanent visit. On Tuesday, Mercedes announced that it would be betting on the 23-year-old Briton from 2022. 32-year-old Bottas is moving to Alfa Romeo. This ended months of speculation, which are now being replaced by questions that also occupy other teams: How can the relationship between different generations be balanced? If older drivers are challenged by the young ones and they in turn should learn from the experience of the experienced drivers – so that everyone benefits?
“The fact that I’m so much younger than him and that I looked up to him during my karting days changes the dynamic a lot,” says Russell
“I found out in the week before Spa,” says Russell in Monza, two weeks after Spa, and predicts: “It will by no means be easy, I have no illusions about how difficult it will be. Lewis is a seven-time world champion for good reason . I am in the fortunate position of being able to learn from the best. ” Russell has nothing to lose. After three seasons at Williams, he will be promoted to the racing team that has been subscribing to the titles of the drivers ‘and constructors’ championships for years. And who would hold it against him if he can’t keep up with 36-year-old Hamilton, who is preparing to become a record champion?
Russell prefers to dispel concerns immediately that there could be a poisoned rivalry like the one between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg: “Mercedes has experienced poor team dynamics and they have made it absolutely clear that they don’t want it to be repeated. I don’t want that either . ” In addition, the relationship between him and Hamilton is really great and his respect for him is huge: “The fact that I’m so much younger than him and that I looked up to him during my karting days changes the dynamics a lot. I don’t see any problems there.”
Conflicts between drivers do not have to do exclusively with age per se. As much as Formula 1 is a team sport, it is an individual sport of ambitious high-speed artists – regardless of the year of birth. Disputes between different pilots, but also within teams, have always been part of it. The question of age, however, has recently come to the fore like rarely.
Because as massively as in the recent past, no new generation has pushed upwards. Which is also related to the clearer structure of the junior series. The powerful racing teams have the future in their cockpits: Max Verstappen, 23, leads the World Championship in the Red Bull. Ferrari sees his next title holder in Charles Leclerc, who is of the same age. Lando Norris, 21, impresses at McLaren – Russell is the name given to the outstanding talents.
The fact that there is also a shift in the retirement age makes things all the more exciting. And like Mercedes, other teams see an opportunity rather than a difficult challenge in the combination of age groups. Formula 1 will change in 2022, new cars, new rules, so it doesn’t hurt if young learn from old and old is encouraged by young.
Fernando Alonso, 40, forms the Alpine pairing with 24-year-old Esteban Ocon. Antonio Giovinazzi, 27, benefited from the experience of Kimi Raikkonen, 41, at Alfa Romeo. What the 22-year-old Mick Schumacher would have liked to have done – who then entered the premier class at Haas and now experiences that it can be just as exhausting to share the garage with someone of the same age: The tension with Nikita Masepin is coming to a head to. And Lance Stroll, 22, should learn from Sebastian Vettel at Aston Martin this year.
Until 2020, the 34-year-old from Heppenheim drove for Ferrari with Leclerc – in a very similar constellation as the future from Mercedes. “I had a multiple world champion next to me. For us as young drivers this is a great opportunity to show what we can do and to learn from the best,” said Leclerc in Monza when he spoke to Vettel at the press conference on the future Silberpfeil-Duo is addressed. He in turn says: “In a way, I learned from Charles.” There was no harmony between the two, on the contrary. But Vettel emphasizes, and it almost seems to calm you down: every situation is different.
Lewis Hamilton, who obviously values Bottas as a team-mate, wins something from the situation: “I think fresh blood will be great for our team and definitely bring new energy. To know that a youngster is coming who is super hungry and motivated and that Team will push forward. ” George Russell has already proven that he has the potential to do this.