George Russell issues warning to new team-mate Lewis Hamilton that he hasn’t joined Mercedes to be his No 2… insisting he is on ‘level terms’ with the seven-time Formula One champion
- George Russell said he joins Mercedes ‘on level terms’ with Lewis Hamilton
- Russell claimed Mercedes said he and Hamilton will have equal treatment
- The 23-year-old added he was ‘fortunate’ that he can learn from Hamilton
George Russell has told Lewis Hamilton he is not joining Mercedes to be his No 2.
The 23-year-old Briton revealed that the team have assured him he will receive equal treatment when he starts his new £5million-a-year job next year.
King’s Lynn-born Russell was full of beans as he spoke to the press for the first time since the move was confirmed on Tuesday. Ahead of the Italian Grand Prix in Monza — which hosts qualifying later today — he said: ‘I am definitely going there on level terms. That was made very clear to me. Mercedes are always respectful in regard of giving both drivers the best opportunity.
George Russell (right) said he will be on ‘level terms with Lewis Hamilton (left) at Mercedes
‘I believe in myself and have high aspirations but equally I know how tough it is going to be. Lewis is a seven-time world champion for a reason and I am in one of the most fortunate positions to learn from him.
‘I see this relationship with Mercedes as a long-term thing. I am sure we will race each other respectfully but hard as Valtteri (Bottas) and Lewis have over the past five years. We have got one goal next year and that is to develop the car and push it forward.’
Russell was being as diplomatic and polite as every new boy should be — as well as genuinely appreciative of Hamilton’s achievements — but there is clearly a burning passion in him.
The hope for the watching world is that the tension between the two alpha males will result in pyrotechnics. Yet infighting is precisely what Mercedes want to avoid after the turbulence of the Hamilton-Nico Rosberg years.
But not so much so that they have handed Russell the role of heir apparent and asked him to bide his time while supporting Hamilton in what are likely to be the final two seasons of his extraordinary career before being elevated to top-dog status.
Russell (left) said he was ‘in one of the most fortunate positions’ to learn from Hamilton
Such a strategy was employed by Ken Tyrrell in lining up Francois Cevert to take Jackie Stewart’s crown once the Scot retired. Alas, the handover never came to pass because the Frenchman died at the 1973 US Grand Prix, in what was going to be Stewart’s last race.
Whether Mercedes’s live-and-let-race policy is wise or foolhardy, they do Formula One a service. Entertainment flows from their liberal attitude.
Hamilton also deserves credit because, while he rooted for Bottas retaining his seat, he has never sought, so far as is known, any clause or promise that he should be outright No 1.
But it is still hard to see his bonhomous mood of yesterday being quite as warm if Russell starts off the season like a rocket.
Seven-time F1 champion Hamilton admitted Russell has ‘everything to gain’ at Mercedes
Hamilton knows he is the one with more at stake. The 36-year-old said: ‘George has got everything to gain. There is no real negative for him. It is all a plus.’ Did Hamilton ask team principal Toto Wolff to muzzle Russell in any way? ‘That’s not my style. I joined Mercedes in 2013 and I said to Ross (Brawn) that I want equal opportunity. That is the most rewarding positon to be in because if you do the work and succeed you know you have done the job against a team-mate at his best.
‘Winning when someone’s wings are clipped does not interest me.’
Hamilton’s more immediate concern is recharging his title defence over the new-format Italian weekend, which sees tonight’s qualifying followed by the one-third sprint race tomorrow and usual grand prix on Sunday.
He trails Max Verstappen by three points having not won since Silverstone, four races ago.