Williams driver George Russell says he would be ready to replace Valtteri Bottas should Mercedes decide to change its driver line-up in 2020.
Russell, a Mercedes protégé, is undertaking an F1 apprenticeship with Williams this season and is considered central to the German marque’s next-generation drive roster alongside former Force India racer Esteban Ocon.
The British rookie’s mature performances this season in the woeful Williams FW42 have impressed, and with Valtteri Bottas out of contract, Russell is theoretically a candidate for a Mercedes seat in 2020.
Few expect Mercedes to seriously contemplate replacing Bottas next season, but the Finn’s strong early season form has dropped off markedly in recent rounds, culminating in a costly crash at the team’s horror German Grand Prix that had him throw away a potential second place on an afternoon Lewis Hamilton took the chequered flag outside the points.
Bottas is now 41 points down in the championship standings and without a win since April’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. In the meanwhile Mercedes has allowed the option on his contract to lapse, enabling it to negotiate new terms or seek the services of another driver.
Russell played down the likelihood of a shock promotion to the championship-winning team when asked in Budapest, but the 21-year-old insisted that he would be ready to take on the challenge were he to have the chance.
“The fact is Mercedes keep an eye on everyone,” he said. “Personally I’d say very, very unlikely, but everything is always possible in Formula One.
“If the opportunity were to come, I’d feel absolutely confident I could take it with both hands and quickly learn as much as possible and be there ready to really deliver after a couple of races.
“I obviously really and truly believe in myself … I feel like the potential is there. You always learn with every single race, every single year with the experience.”
But both Mercedes and Russell would be taking a risk by ushering the reigning F2 champion to the front of the grid in what would be only his sophomore season, for the sport is littered with examples of drivers whose careers have been stunted by being promoted too high too soon, with Pierre Gasly at Red Bull Racing being a timely example.
However, Russell was quick to point out so too have relatively inexperienced drivers flourished in high-pressure environments.
“[Daniil] Kvyat beat [Daniel] Ricciardo in his first year at Red Bull. [Max] Verstappen won in his first race with Red Bull. Charles [Leclerc] is giving [Sebastian] Vettel a run for his money in his first year,” he said.
“I think any driver would love the opportunity to drive in the championship-winning car. That would be absolutely stupid to go against that.
“From my side, I’m learning so much here at Williams. I am still thoroughly enjoying being an F1 driver and the development process and everything.
“But the fact is every driver wants to win races and wants the opportunity to win championships. There’s no disrespect or hard feelings from Williams’s perspective when I say I want to be in a championship-winning car, because who doesn’t?”
Though given Russell’s position in the Mercedes development programme, his future is to a degree out of his hands provided he keeps performing.
“Right here, right now, I am fully focused on the job, and I will leave the political stuff to Mercedes and Williams to discuss,” he said.
“I’m just focused on my job here at Williams. But if I want to be in a championship-winning car, all I need to focus on is doing the job at hand.”