Russell replaces Hamilton for Bahrain as Aitken takes vacant Williams seat

George Russell will replace the COVID-stricken Lewis Hamilton for the upcoming Sakhir Grand Prix with Jack Aitken filling in for him at Williams, the respective teams have announced.

Russell, who has been on the Mercedes books since 2017 before being released to Williams after his championship winning F2 season, was the obvious choice as he was in Bahrain anyway and is seen as one of the most talented drivers on the grid.

All that was needed was the consent of Williams, who were also happy to give fellow Brit and test and reserve driver Aitken his chance behind the wheel.

โ€œFirstly, I want to say a huge thank you to everybody at Williams for giving me this opportunity,โ€ commented Russell. โ€œI might be wearing a different race suit this weekend, but Iโ€™m a Williams driver and Iโ€™ll be cheering my team on every step of the way. I see this as a great chance to learn from the best outfit on the grid right now and to come back as an improved driver, with even more energy and experience to help push Williams further up the grid.

โ€œA big thank you also to Mercedes for putting their faith in me. Obviously, nobody can replace Lewis, but I’ll give my all for the team in his absence from the moment I step in the car. Most importantly, I wish him a speedy recovery. Iโ€™m really looking forward to the opportunity and canโ€™t wait to get out on track this week.โ€

It wonโ€™t be an easy task for Russell alongside the established Valtteri Bottas, by any means. But it is a win/win situation for the exciting Englishman, who becomes just the fifth driver to race for the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team since 2010, and the third Briton to represent Mercedes-Benz in F1 after Sir Stirling Moss and Lewis Hamilton.

โ€œFirst and foremost, I wish to thank our loyal partners at Williams for their collaboration and open-mindedness in making it possible for George to race for Mercedes this weekend. The conversations with the team at Williams were positive and pragmatic, and those were the key factors in reaching an agreement,โ€ added Team Principal and CEO Toto Wolff.

โ€œIt will not be a straightforward task for George to make the transition from the Williams to the W11, but he is race-ready and has detailed understanding of the 2020 tyres and how they perform on this generation of cars. George has shown impressive form this year with Williams, playing an instrumental role in their climb up the grid, and I am optimistic that he will deliver a strong performance alongside Valtteri, who will be a demanding reference for him.โ€

An equally excited Brit is Williams reserve driver Aitken, who is already accustomed to the FW43, having taken part in an FP1 session earlier in the season at the Styrian Grand Prix.

โ€œIโ€™m absolutely over the moon to have the opportunity to make my debut with Williams this coming weekend and I am extremely happy for George to have his chance too! I really mean it when I say Iโ€™ve felt very much at home here since I joined Williams earlier this year, so to get my chance to help the team try to achieve that elusive points finish is an extremely satisfying occasion to say the least.

“Iโ€™ll be doing all I can to prepare in the coming days, but truthfully, I feel like I have been ready since Melbourne. I also want to wish Lewis well in his recovery, and good luck to George getting the chance to drive the Mercedes this weekend.โ€

Fraser Masefield

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.