George Russell has been given the nod by Mercedes and has been confirmed to replace world champion Lewis Hamilton in this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix.
Hamilton was ruled out of the second Bahrain race yesterday after testing positive for Covid-19.
The shock development then led to widespread speculation over who will replace the Briton, with Russell and ex-McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne, the leading candidates.
Russell is a Mercedes junior, and while he will return to the struggling Williams outfit next season, he will bring with him some valuable experience of racing a championship-winning car.
It was unlikely Williams would have played hardball given they are a customer team to Mercedes for they would be unwilling to derail their relationship with the German manufacturer.
However, the team are only a few points behind Haas for ninth in the constructor standings. With this weekend’s outer oval layout set to benefit Mercedes-powered cars, a top-ten finish could see them overtake the American team and with it the substantial increase in prize money.
“Firstly, I want to say a huge thank you to everybody at Williams for giving me this opportunity,” said Russell.
“I might be wearing a different race suit this weekend, but I’m a Williams driver, and I’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. A 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. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity and can’t wait to get out on track this week.”
Replacing Russell and making his Formula 1 debut is Jack Aitken, who joins the team’s regular Nicholas Latifi.
The 25-year-old has dovetailed a third Formula 2 stint with Campos Racing and testing duties with Williams.
His experience with the team and the 2020 car, which he drove in Free Practice earlier at the Styrian Grand Prix in Austria, makes Aitken a wise choice.
“I’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,” said Aitken,
“I mean it when I say I’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.
“I’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.”