With the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship season two races away from concluding, two championship-winning teams announced a shake-up to its driver lineup for the upcoming Sakhir Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit scheduled on Sunday, December 6.
The first was the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team, which announced that George Russell will be competing for this year’s seven-time Constructors’ championship-winning team at Bahrain, replacing this year’s seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, and be a teammate to Valtteri Bottas.
The news comes a day after Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19 and was ruled out of the penultimate event of the 2020 F1 season. It also comes following his win at the Bahrain International Circuit last weekend.
For Russell, he currently competes in Formula One for Williams Racing. Following an arrangement between Williams and Mercedes, Russell, who was viewed as a potential candidate to replace Hamilton, was able to make the transition to Mercedes for this weekend’s event at Bahrain.
Russell, a 22-year-old native from King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England, is in his second season in F1 competition, having joined Williams in 2019 as an F1 newcomer and a future star. Through 36 career starts in F1, his best results are a pair of 11th- and 12th-place finishes and he has yet to record his first points in F1 racing.
Russell also comes with an extensive background in racing, having started his career through karting. He then won the 2014 BRDC Formula 4 championship before competing in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship the following two seasons. In 2017, Russell won the 2017 GP3 Series championship with ART Grand Prix and remained with the team when he competed in the 2018 FIA Formula 2 Championship season, where he won the title.
In early 2017, Russell was added to Mercedes’ junior driver programme. The following season, he was named a reserve competitor for the team before he made his F1 competition debut in 2019 with Williams.
Russell is due to remain at Williams for the 2021 Formula One season along with Williams’ second competitor Nicholas Latifi.
“Firstly, I want to say a huge thank you to everybody at Williams for giving me this opportunity,” Russell said. “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.”
“Our long-term partnership and George’s affiliation with Mercedes is no secret, and so I’m delighted George has this unique opportunity to join Mercedes, the current Constructors’ Champions,” Simon Roberts, Williams’ Acting Team Principal, added. “We have been working hard to ensure that an agreement could be made with Mercedes to allow him this fantastic opportunity. George very much remains a Williams driver and we look forward to him returning to us fresh from this experience and wish him a successful race this weekend.”
With his absence, Hamilton will not compete in an F1 event since 2006, thus snapping his 265-race consecutive starting streak that spans back to the 2007 Australian Grand Prix.
His absence also comes more than two weeks after Hamilton claimed his record-tying seventh world championship following his victory in the Turkish Grand Prix at Intercity Istanbul Park, tying him with Michael Schumacher for the most F1 titles in history. The 35-year-old native from Stevenage, England, has won 11 of 15 Grand Prix events this season, totaling his career wins in F1 to an all-time record 95. He has also achieved 10 poles this season, totaling his career poles in F1 to 98.
With Russell temporarily joining Mercedes, the second driver announcement came from Williams Racing, which announced that Jack Aitken will be making his F1 debut with the team at Bahrain and compete alongside teammate Latifi.
Aitken, a 25-year-old native from London, England, who holds dual British and Korean nationality, is a Formula 2 competitor for Campos Racing. This season, he has achieved two podium results and is in 14th place in the Drivers’ standings entering the series’ pair of final races of the 2020 season at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Aitken comes into F1 competition with an extensive background in racing, having started his career through karting at age seven. He competed in the 2013 Formula Renault 2.0 NEC with Fortec Motorsports. Following a full-time Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 run with Fortec Motorsports in 2014, he remained in the series and joined forces with Koiranen GP in 2015, where he went on to win the championship. Throughout 2015, he also claimed the Formula Renault 2.0 Alps and the Pro Mazda Winterfest. He then competed in the GP3 Series with Arden International in 2016 before joining forces with ART Grand Prix the following season, where he finished in second place in the final standings behind the champion George Russell. Since 2018, Aitken competes in F2, where he has won a total of four races (2018-19).
In addition to racing in Formula 2, Aitken is a reserve driver for Williams Racing. He is also a former reserve/test driver for the Renault F1 Team. He tested a Lotus at Circuito de Jerez in late 2017 and competed in Williams’ FP1 during the practice session of this year’s Styrian Grand Prix at Austria’s Red Bull Ring.
“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 really 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.”
“We are also thrilled this means we are able to give another British talent in Jack Aitken the opportunity to make his Formula One race debut,” Roberts added. “Jack joined Williams at the start of this season, and despite COVID-19 restrictions meaning we haven’t been able to interact with him as much as we would like, he has quickly become a much-liked member of the team. We look forward to seeing him build on his previous experience driving the car in practice, to see what he can do in a qualifying and race situation.”
Russell’s move to Mercedes and Aitken’s move to Williams are two of three new driver-team pairings for the upcoming Sakhir Grand Prix, with Pietro Fittipaldi set to compete for Haas F1 Team at Bahrain and filling in for the injured Romain Grosjean, who continues to recover from injuries sustained following his accident in the Bahrain Grand Prix last weekend.
The Sakhir Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit is set to occur on Sunday, December 6.