Formula 1: Jenson Button on rumours of Lewis Hamilton retiring
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Mercedes newcomer George Russell has “everything that is needed” to become a force in Formula 1 following his move from Williams. That’s according to 1996 world champion Damon Hill, who is mightily impressed by the up-and-coming talent as he seeks to challenge the reign of titleholder Max Verstappen.
Big things are expected of Russell, 23, ahead of his maiden voyage with the Silver Arrows having replaced Valtteri Bottas at the Brackley-based brand.
He may well be required to produce from the off for the sport’s dominant manufacturer, considering the racing future of Lewis Hamilton remains up in the air.
The FIA is still dealing with the inquest relating to the outcome of December’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, specifically the events that led to Red Bull star Verstappen beating Hamilton to clinch his first championship in controversial fashion.
There’s also a great deal of anticipation in regards to how Hamilton, 37, will gel alongside Russell, his first permanent British team-mate since Jenson Button during his McLaren days.
But Hill is expecting a positive reaction from both Mercedes men and told Motorsport.com that Hamilton will take on the mentor role if required.
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“It will be great to follow,” he said of the English duo.
“I’m sure Lewis will encourage George. I don’t see it going wrong.
“Lewis recognises that his shelf-life in the sport is shorter than George’s, so I’m sure he’ll be willing to lend a hand if needed. That is probably not necessary at all.”
Russell has already made his Mercedes debut, of course, at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix when he replaced Hamilton, who was ruled out at the time by a positive Covid-19 test.
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The prospect showed massive potential and arguably should have won the Sakhir Grand Prix only for a Mercedes pit-stop error, when he was leading, and late puncture putting an end to his hopes as he finished ninth.
His new bosses will be expecting consistency among the podium places as his Mercedes career begins in earnest.
Part of that job description will be to take the necessary points from Verstappen to ensure last season’s title win isn’t the beginning of a movement, but rather an anomalous outlier.
There was some off-season questions that Mercedes would have been better off picking McLaren’s Lando Norris as Bottas’ natural successor.
Hill placed faith in Russell to challenge the sport’s elite, however, and make his own mark now that he’s joined one of motorsport’s superpowers.
“The boy has everything that is needed,” he added. “He’s above the rest, you know.”
But talk is cheap, and only when the 2022 campaign kicks off will fans see exactly how ready Russell is to compete alongside the best in the business.
Many drivers might view his situation as an opportunity to prove they’re even superior to seven-time world champion Hamilton, though Hill advised against such a course of action.
“It’s up to George to decide how he’s going to handle it,” Hill continued. “You can approach such a situation with ‘he is the enemy and I am going to teach him a lesson’.
“That might not be the smartest thing to do with Lewis next to you. So yes, we have a lot to look forward to.”
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