As far as promotions go, they don’t come any bigger than George Russell’s elevation from the Mercedes junior academy to a full-time seat alongside Formula One’s most decorated driver.
Russell, the 23-year-old from King’s Lynn, will be catapulted into the big time next season when he is partnered with Lewis Hamilton – a blockbuster all-British line-up that promises to take the sport on to another level.
Russell was given his first taste of stardom when he deputised for a Covid-hit Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix last December.
In a machine designed for Hamilton’s 5ft 7in frame, 6ft 2in Russell, wore smaller boots – dropping from 11s to 10s – in order to squeeze into his compatriot’s cockpit.
But, despite the size disadvantage, and the eleventh-hour call-up, Russell seized his opportunity.
He out-performed Valtteri Bottas and was on course for a remarkable victory before a Mercedes pit-stop howler denied him glory.
His performance was so mighty, that Hamilton – still feeling the effects of his coronavirus battle – rushed back for the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
Hamilton, in talks with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff over a new deal, did not want to afford the younger man another shot at glory. Even seven-time world champions get paranoid.
To those outside of motor racing circles, Russell’s stunning performance in Bahrain might have come as a surprise.
But his name has long been established in the paddock. He won both F1’s feeder series – GP3 and Formula Two – and was signed to the Mercedes junior programme in 2017.
He then persuaded Williams to give him an F1 drive the following year with a power-point presentation.
“I was going in to the meeting with lots of notes in my notebook and I thought, what’s the point writing notes when I can deliver a presentation,” he explained.
“I don’t want to give too much away – it might give others ideas – but it was about me, my record, my thoughts on how to grow an F1 team and my character. It obviously did the job.”
Russell lived up to his presentation. In three seasons with the uncompetitive Williams team, he has never been out-qualified by his team-mate; 21 races out of 21 against Robert Kubica, and 30 in 30 against Nicholas Latifi.
Last month, he delivered a one-lap performance for the ages when he qualified on the front row – ahead of 36-year-old Hamilton – in the rain in Spa-Francorchamps.
Fernando Alonso has already called Russell a future world champion – and now we will get the chance to find out whether the two-time title winner is right.
However, one thing’s for certain. When Hamilton finally hangs up his helmet, the future of British motor racing is in safe hands.
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