George Russell, the man who looks like Mercedes’ guy, has been in the news for his recent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He is also known for his role as a stuntman in the film “The Hunger Games.”
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Nate Saunders is an American football player.
Associate Editor for F1
- • Worked in rugby union and British Superbikes before.
- • Reading University history graduate
- • In February 2014, he joined ESPNF1.
Laurence Edmondson is a British actor.
- • In 2009, he joined ESPN.
- • Since 2011, I’ve been an FIA-accredited F1 journalist.
The season is on hold until the end of August, as Formula One takes a summer vacation.
Mercedes has set the Belgian Grand Prix as the deadline for confirming the name of Lewis Hamilton’s 2022 teammate. It’s a game-changing move for F1’s near future, and one that will reverberate across the driver market.
Going into the summer vacation, here’s a look at the major 2022 driver market questions.
Russell or Bottas?
This is the most important one. On the surface, the choice seems to be clear: retain Valtteri Bottas for a sixth season, or offer young driver George Russell a permanent promotion from Williams.
While it may seem like Mercedes has been in this’stick or twist’ position for a few seasons now (at least from the outside), this is the first time the latter choice appears to be the more probable possibility.
There was a growing sense in the paddock as the August break neared that Russell would be the guy beside Hamilton next year. At this point, it seems like Mercedes would have to do a spectacular 180-degree turn to have that not be the case.
George Russell, a former Williams driver, is expected to race for Mercedes in 2022. Getty Images/Peter Fox
It’s difficult to argue against Russell having the chance. For the most part, his form over the last year and a half has been outstanding. He’s qualified for Q2 on all but one occasion this year, and he even got it to Q3 at the Austrian and British Grands Prix. Last week’s Hungarian Grand Prix was long overdue for a podium result. There have been a few missed chances, most notably at Imola last season and again this year, but they are the kinds of errors you want a rookie driver to make when working for a backmarker squad.
Bottas, on the other hand, seems to be on the decline. Since the start of the 2020 season, the Finn has just two victories; Hamilton has 15 in the sibling vehicle in the same time span. Bottas failed to persuade Mercedes to retain him, and after creating a multi-car pile-up at the Hungarian Grand Prix, he enters the summer vacation. It was a little blunder with major ramifications, but it appeared to sum up Bottas’ current situation well.
Giving Russell a chance will be a change for Mercedes chief Toto Wolff from the pragmatic strategy of previous years. Bottas isn’t the most flashy driver, but he’s a proven race winner who excels in qualifying. Russell has a unique skill, although he is still relatively obscure. Last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix tryout as Hamilton’s stand-in indicated he won’t be intimidated by the position if he gets it.
Another thought will have remained in the back of Russell’s mind: if not now, when? Wolff has previously done a lot of juggling to handle Esteban Ocon’s career as a former Mercedes youngster. With the assistance of Mercedes, the French driver — and new F1 race champion — took a year off before returning to the sport in 2020 with Renault (now Alpine). Mercedes was unable to give him a seat at the main team after he lost his Racing Point drive at the end of 2018, but has essentially kept him on a long piece of string at a rival team – Ocon is still handled by Mercedes driver program adviser Gwen Lagrue.
That Ocon arrangement worked at the time because it maintained the French driver in Formula One while also allowing Mercedes to retain Bottas as Hamilton’s teammate and Russell as a Williams trainee. Russell’s progress has once again pushed the issue, and it’s difficult to see Mercedes being content with another brilliant talent tethered to another club for the foreseeable future.
Russell’s body language leading up to the summer vacation indicated that he knows something nice is coming his way. Russell’s uncontrollable laughter was captured in an interview he did before the Hungarian Grand Prix, when a query from F1’s Lawrence Barretto about his future beyond this year caused him to break out laughing.
If it is, as anticipated, Russell, it begs the issue of what will happen to Bottas. Regardless of how difficult his time at Mercedes has been, he unquestionably deserves another chance in Formula One. According to a recent Autosport story, Alfa Romeo has named him as their top contender for 2022, but a trade with Russell is still a possibility.
What about Williams, for example?
Alfa Romeo and Williams have both been connected with Valtteri Bottas. Getty Images/Dan Istitene/Formula 1/Formula 1
If Russell is offered the Mercedes driver’s position, Bottas would be an obvious choice to replace him at Williams. He’d bring race-winning experience to the team, which hoped to improve its position in the standings under the new aero regulations. Bottas, like the majority of former Williams drivers, still holds the team in high esteem.
Williams would have many of alternatives if Bottas was unavailable.
Williams is a Mercedes partner, and Toto Wolff has floated the possibility of Stoffel Vandoorne or Nyck de Vries, one of the company’s Formula E drivers, joining the team next season. Many believe Vandoorne was never given a fair chance in F1 with McLaren, whereas De Vries, the 2019 Formula 2 champion and current Formula E championship leader, would be an exciting rookie if given the opportunity.
There are also drivers with recent F1 experience. Nico Hulkenberg is said to be on the team’s shortlist, despite the fact that, as Racer Magazine revealed last week, the German is also on the radar of IndyCar squad Ed Carpenter Racing. Daniil Kvyat, a former Red Bull and Toro Rosso driver, would also be a fast and experienced alternative who would welcome a second opportunity in F1 free from the Red Bull program’s strain.
Nicholas Latifi seems to be a shoe-in to stay in the other vehicle with the squad. The Canadian is well-funded and came in eighth place in the Hungarian Grand Prix. Russell’s exploits made it easy to ignore Latifi, but in the races coming up to Budapest, he had been closing the gap in qualifying.
Is Kimi still alive?
Kimi Raikkonen’s future in Formula One seems to be uncertain after this season. Although the 2007 world champion is still one of the most popular drivers on the grid, his current tenure with Alfa Romeo has been uninspired. Part of it is due to a brilliant driver in an uncompetitive vehicle, but another factor is Antonio Giovinazzi’s recent outperformance of the Finn.
If Raikkonen is not retained, Bottas would be a fantastic addition to the Swiss squad. There’s also Mick Schumacher. Alfa Romeo is still a close partner of Ferrari, and Schumacher is a member of the Italian team’s driver development program. Ferrari, on the other hand, is still hesitant to push Schumacher up the ranks, which may keep him at Haas for at least another season.
Of course, the media has suggested that this would be Raikkonen’s last season before, so stay tuned.
The Pierre Gasly dilemma
Pierre Gasly, the champion of the Italian Grand Prix, seems likely to remain with AlphaTauri for another year. Getty Images/Peter Fox
Pierre Gasly is in red-hot form, but it doesn’t seem like he’ll get his second shot at Red Bull until at least 2023.
Sergio Perez’s performance with Max Verstappen has been inconsistent, but it has been strong enough to earn him a second season at Red Bull. His biggest task in the second half of the season is to raise his baseline performances to consistently put Hamilton and Mercedes under pressure to help Verstappen’s championship chances. He won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and has shown glimpses of top drawer performances – his biggest task in the second half of the season is to raise his baseline performances to consistently put Hamilton and Mercedes under pressure to help Verstappen’s championship chances.
That doesn’t change the fact that Gasly has been outstanding since being relegated from Red Bull. He won the Italian Grand Prix last year and has been on the podium twice this season, but his first stint was a disaster, so the issue of his mental state will always be raised. Gasly is convinced that he can succeed where he failed last time, but he recently told ESPN that he believes Red Bull wants an experienced driver to take AlphaTauri into next year’s regulation change. Galsy obviously flourishes on the tiny Italian squad, and it’s possible that this is the best location for him to stay for the time being.
Yuki Tsunoda’s rookie season has been the epitome of unpredictable, but his potential is intriguing, and Red Bull hopes to see him continue to grow in a good manner with Gasly in 2022.
The grid’s remainder
Several teams, like McLaren (Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo), Ferrari (Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz), Alpine (Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso), and Aston Martin (Lando Norris, Daniel Ricciardo), seem to be keeping their lineups same for next season (Sebastian Vettel, Lace Stroll).
With an uncompetitive vehicle, Haas took on rookie combination Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, knowing it would be a baptism by fire for both drivers in their debut seasons. Unless Schumacher gets a chance at Alfa, both seem to be set for next season.
In 2022, will there be any rookies?
With so few current drivers set to retire at the end of 2021, novices will struggle to secure a place on the grid next year. Furthermore, the revamp of technical rules for 2022 may deter teams from hiring new talent since expertise will be scarce in order to get the most out of the new vehicles the following year. There are, however, several potential drivers on the horizon, and many of them have already been connected to major teams.
Oscar Piastri, an Australian who won Formula 3 last year, is now leading the Formula 2 championship. He consistently shows the sort of skill that is difficult to overlook. He already holds a Formula Renault Eurocup title from 2019, thus a win in F2 this year would give him three consecutive championships in junior categories, leaving just F1 as a possibility (F2 champions are not allowed to compete in the championship the following year).
So you’re perfect F1 material? The only issue is that he is a member of the Alpine driving school, and the Alpine F1 team has already hired two drivers for 2022 in recent race winner Ocon and two-time world champion Alonso. Given the competitive nature of the driver market, a move to another team appears improbable, but depending on the fates of Bottas, Raikkonen, and Schumacher, Alfa Romeo, Williams, or Haas may have vacancies.
Talent, on the other hand, is not necessarily a guarantee of a spot on the F1 grid, particularly among teams with little resources. You want to combine skill with a major sponsor, or at least the possibility to acquire one, and that’s where Guanyu Zhou, another Alpine driver school member, comes in.
For the last two years, Zhou has been a consistent top 10 competitor in Formula 2, and he is presently second in the title, five points behind Piastri. He may also be F1’s key to breaking into the Chinese market, since he has the potential to become the first Chinese driver to compete at the highest level of the sport. A team may profit from sponsorship agreements and Chinese investment as a result of this, but the sponsors Zhou presently has will not be able to compete with Latifi and Mazepin’s.
Other drivers to keep an eye on include 17-year-old Theo Pourchaire, who recently tested for Alfa Romeo as part of his Sauber junior contract, and Ferrari driver academy member Robert Shwartzman. Pourchaire has obvious potential, having won the F2 Monaco feature race this year, but given his young, he is unlikely to be promoted to F1. Shwartzman is now third in the F2 championship in his second season, but he faces stiff competition from inside Ferrari’s Academy, where the Italian company is partially subsidizing Schumacher’s F1 career while still employing last year’s F2 runner-up Callum Ilott.