George Russell believes Mercedes have the potential pace to challenge Ferrari and Red Bull for race wins this season, but not at this weekend's Australian Grand Prix.

Russell finished a lowly 11th in Friday's second practice session in Melbourne, adding further anguish to what has been a challenging opening to the 2022 Formula One season.

He and Mercedes team-mate, seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, only claimed respective fourth and third place finishes at the season opener in Bahrain after Red Bull had to retire both cars.

Finishes of fifth and 10th for Russell and Hamilton respectively in Saudi Arabia provided a clearer reflection of where the once-dominant Mercedes team is in the 2022 pecking order, amid new regulations.

"We do believe there is a solution and we do believe there's a lot of lap time on the table once we optimise that," Russell said.

"It's more optimism and excitement. We're not here scratching our heads, not understanding why we're off the pace. We absolutely know why we're off the pace and we know what we need to work on to improve that.

"We're a long way behind Ferrari and Red Bull. It's going to take time and we just have to be disciplined and patient because we are so far behind and because of the cost cap, we can't afford just to throw things at it and trial and error at race weekends."

The extra week between the Saudi Arabian and Australian Grands Prix has not rectified the extreme porpoising issues Mercedes cars have experienced at high speeds so far, relative to other teams.

A higher downforce setup would significantly impact the car's speed and performance, meaning a balance must be struck, something rival teams have been quicker in achieving.

Russell, who signed for Mercedes upon the expectation he would be challenging for race wins and ultimately the driver's title, believes the team must be patient.

"We need to trust the process and bring the upgrades when we have total faith and confidence they will do as we expect," he said. "And that will be a number of races before we start seeing that."

Lewis Hamilton is eager to get his teeth stuck into another Formula One title challenge as soon as possible, but his Mercedes continues to struggle in 2022.

New regulations in F1 this season, introduced to encourage "closer racing", have already shaken up the grid – to Hamilton's detriment.

Charles Leclerc led a Ferrari one-two at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, while Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez would both have finished ahead of Hamilton, too, had Red Bull not suffered a dramatic double retirement.

The seven-time champion has been honest enough to acknowledge his W13 car lacks the pace of its rivals, but that does not mean he is happy to take a back seat.

"I don't currently feel too stressed, but I want to get in the fight as soon as possible," Hamilton said ahead of FP1 at the Saudi Arabian GP on Friday.

"The last race was an amazing feeling for us, given where we thought we were going to be, to come out with the result that we did.

"But we can't rely every weekend on that to happen, so we need to move fast, and move forward as fast as we can."

Hamilton would likely have been frustrated then by his performance in the first practice session later in the day, running in an alarming ninth as Leclerc and Ferrari again set the pace.

While Red Bull are confident they have mastered the issues that prompted their Bahrain DNFs, there is little evidence so far of Mercedes getting to grips with the porpoising that has caused Hamilton such problems.

Mercedes team-mate George Russell was down in 15th on Friday, but he at least appears a little more patient in his first year with the team.

"In Formula One, things change incredibly quickly," Russell said. "We are very fortunate that the calendar is not very dense at the start of this season, and even if it's a couple of months, we're only six or seven races down out of a 23-race season.

"If you come out of the blocks incredibly fast after the summer break, even as Mercedes and Lewis did last year, you're still in with a shot.

"So, we need to be in almost damage limitation mode at the moment, pick up the pieces where there's an opportunity, and don't throw away unnecessary points."

Mercedes have not failed to take either a pole position or race win through two grands prix of a season since 2013.

Meanwhile, Russell could become the second Silver Arrows driver – after Michael Schumacher in 2010 – to complete three races without reaching the podium, having deputised for Hamilton once while with Williams.

The new Formula One season is only a single race old, but Charles Leclerc has already matched the achievement of one title-winning former Ferrari star.

Now, ahead of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Leclerc is out to try to repeat a Michael Schumacher feat and set a championship charge in motion.

The Monegasque driver led a Ferrari one-two in Bahrain last week, holding off Max Verstappen before the defending champion's mechanical woes ensured Carlos Sainz joined his team-mate on the top two steps of the podium.

It was the Scuderia's first race win since the 2019 Singapore GP, another one-two when Leclerc finished second to Sebastian Vettel.

The Leclerc-Sainz one-two was Ferrari's 85th in F1 – a record – and signalled a return to form, coming at the end of a weekend they had dominated, with the race winner also qualifying fastest to start from pole position.

Heading into the rest of the season, that should certainly provide Leclerc with encouragement, given the last Scuderia driver to start the season with a win from pole was Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. That was the most recent season in which a Ferrari driver won the title.

Indeed, should Leclerc convert pole again in Saudi Arabia, he would become the first Ferrari man to do so in the first two races of a campaign since Schumacher in his final title-winning season in 2004.

Leclerc and Sainz each discussed their title ambitions following Bahrain, so last week's runner-up will hope to go with his colleague again.

Ferrari have never had a one-two in each of the first two grands prix of a season, while Raikkonen and Felipe Massa in 2008 were their last duo to achieve such a result in consecutive races at any stage of the year.

Meanwhile, if Leclerc hopes to follow in Schumacher's footsteps, Mercedes rival George Russell does not.

Schumacher in 2010, then in the twilight of his legendary career after coming out of retirement, was the only Silver Arrows driver to this point fail to make the podium in his first three races with the team.

A pit-stop error and a puncture saw Russell finish his Mercedes debut in ninth when deputising for Lewis Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir GP, while he was fourth behind his new team-mate last week.

The Red Bull woe that boosted Ferrari also rescued that three-four result for Mercedes, but team principal Toto Wolff said: "It's too early to look at the championship as it stands. If you look at the pecking order today, it seems a long shot to even be in contention for any of the championships.

"If I look at [Bahrain] as a single race weekend, we probably scored the maximum of points that we could have. And we need to take it from there.

"Every weekend counts and, at the moment, it's singular events because, realistically, when you're third on the road, you can't think about winning it."

How does Formula One go about following up the epic 2021 season?

Well, until that stunning campaign stole the show, this year was long seen as the one to look forward to with the introduction of new regulations to encourage competitive racing right down the grid.

Lewis Hamilton might have expected a genuine challenge in 2022; instead, in the form of Max Verstappen, it arrived 12 months early.

Excitement for the coming campaign is therefore at an all-time high, with pre-season testing adding to the theory fans should expect the unexpected.

Forecasting the year ahead is tricky, but Stats Perform seeks to identify the key narratives to follow this season ahead of Sunday's 2022 opener in Bahrain.

Max vs Lewis again

For now at least, Verstappen and Hamilton will expect to be the title frontrunners, which should mean another classic campaign.

Verstappen had never even led the standings until winning last year's Monaco Grand Prix, the first of five consecutive Red Bull wins – including four for the Dutchman.

That sequence ended at Silverstone, where contact with Hamilton sent Verstappen into the wall and set the tone for the rest of a frantic season, in which the pair repeatedly went at one another, crashing at Monza.

A titanic back-and-forth deserved a better ending than to be decided by a contentious call from race director Michael Masi in Abu Dhabi.

Now, defending champion Verstappen can attempt to prove he is better than Hamilton regardless of that decision, while the Mercedes man seeks to show his class once again as he pursues a record eighth title.

The midfield challenge

The game-changing 2022 regulations sought to enforce "closer racing", meaning both Verstappen and Hamilton could come under threat rather than simply blowing away the competition.

Early signs are encouraging on that front, with the two title rivals name-checking Ferrari's superb pre-season showing in the past week.

A resurgent Scuderia represent an obvious danger to those two, but so too do McLaren, Ferrari's midfield neighbours in recent seasons.

Lando Norris had four podiums last season before tailing off to finish sixth in the drivers' championship – still two places ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, who endured a tough first year with the team despite a famous win at Monza.

Having been aided by changes to the car for 2022, it is up to Ferrari and McLaren to close the gap considerably to Red Bull and Mercedes.

George a genuine threat?

Of course, Verstappen and Hamilton might typically expect their biggest challenges to come from those in the same cars.

However, Sergio Perez played the role of supporting Red Bull team-mate brilliantly in some key moments last year, while Valtteri Bottas continued to do his own thing without worrying Hamilton.

How a change in the Mercedes garage alters things remains to be seen. Bottas has been replaced by George Russell, who will hope to quickly make his mark.

Russell deputised for Hamilton for a single race the year before last and impressed, so it will be interesting to see if he now intends to push his legendary colleague all the way or will initially settle instead for helping his title bid.

Impact of refereeing reform

It is not only the cars that have had a makeover this year, with the officiating structure reorganised in the aftermath of the criticism aimed at Masi.

He is out as race director, with two men, Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, taking his place, while other changes include the introduction of a "virtual race control room" to "assist the race director in the decision-making process".

Whether these changes suitably appease the team principals, who grew increasingly furious with each controversy last year, remains to be seen.

All parties would agree they would rather see the championship decided on the track – but it is not always as straightforward as that.

Following an eventful, dramatic and – dare we say it – the best Formula One season to date, the 2022 campaign has plenty to live up to.

Lewis Hamilton is going in search of a record eighth world title at the second time of asking after missing out to Max Verstappen on the final lap of the final race in 2021.

Reigning champion Verstappen is himself seeking some personal history this coming campaign, which begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.

Ahead of what will hopefully be an equally as gripping season this time around, Stats Perform picks out some of the key numbers.

 

Hamilton narrowly missed out on surpassing Michael Schumacher as F1's most successful driver, though he has not missed out on top spot in successive years since joining Mercedes in 2013.

Should he match his achievement from last year, Red Bull's Verstappen (25 years, two months) would surpass Fernandes Alonso (25y, 2m, 23 days) as the second-youngest multiple world champion, behind only Sebastian Vettel (24y, 3m).

Mercedes may have suffered disappointment last time out, but they still finished top of the constructors' standings for a record-extending eighth time in a row. They are one short of equalling Williams as the second-most successful team, though Ferrari (16) are still well out in front.

In terms of other team milestones, Bahrain will be the 250th GP Mercedes have competed in, while they are six fastest laps away from setting 100. McLaren, meanwhile, are seven podiums from reaching 500 in F1.

Joining Hamilton at Mercedes this season is compatriot George Russell, who along with McLaren's Lando Norris is aiming to become the first Briton other than Hamilton to win a race since Jenson Button in 2012.

Bottas is now at Alfa Romeo and is joined by Guanyu Zhou, who will be China's first ever representative on the grid, making them the 39th country to appear in F1. Indeed, it is the first time three Asian countries will be represented, with Alex Albon (Thailand) and Yuki Tsunoda (Japan) also featuring.

 

Now 14 years on from their most recent constructors' title, Ferrari will equal their worst-such streak – 15 years between 1984 and 1998 – if they again miss out this term.

Carlos Sainz is Ferrari's big hope and he has either matched or bettered his performance from the previous season – both in terms of points and position – over the past six years when racing for just one team.

While his title chances are slim at best, Fernando Alonso has the opportunity to become the driver with the biggest margin between F1 titles of all time, 16 years on from his most recent success. 

Twenty-two events are currently locked in the F1 calendar for this year, with Miami set to become the 77th different circuit used when it hosts its maiden GP in May. It will be the 11th different track used in the United States, which is the most of any country.

Lewis Hamilton claims he is not expecting to be competing for victories at the start of the new Formula One season after experiencing difficulties during testing.

Neither Hamilton, who has won the drivers' championship a joint-record seven times, nor new Mercedes team-mate George Russell were among the fastest drivers on the final day of pre-season testing in Bahrain, as Max Verstappen topped the timesheets.

With Red Bull's defending champion faring well just a week before the Bahrain Grand Prix opens the campaign, Hamilton suggested he is not holding out much hope of a strong start, with Mercedes experiencing performance issues with their new W13 car.

"I'm sure everyone can figure it out, we're not the quickest at the moment," Hamilton told a news conference on Saturday.

"Ferrari looks to be the quickest and perhaps Red Bull, and then maybe us or McLaren. I don't know, but we're certainly not at the top.

"Obviously it's a little bit too early to get into [hopes of winning the drivers' championship] or have those kinds of thoughts, but at the moment I don't think we'll be competing for wins.

"But there is potential within our car to get us there. We've just got to learn to extract it and fix some of the problems. 

"That's what we are working on and everyone is doing an incredible job back at the factory working as hard as they can, but we have some hurdles to overcome."

Hamilton, who won 2021's season opener in Bahrain, also denied he was deliberately playing down expectations to hide the car's true strength. 

"Obviously next week we'll get a much better showing of our pace, but I think people will be surprised," he explained.

"People keep saying that we keep talking ourselves down, but it's a bit different this year. It feels a lot different. It's not as good, I don't think it's going to look as it did last year with the difficult session we had in testing and then switch over [to win] the race.

"I think we have far bigger challenges this time and they are not one-week turnarounds; they'll take a little bit longer. But, from what I told, we have a considerable amount of pace to find."

"At the moment the performance isn't there," the 24-year-old said.

"We are a step behind our rivals, and we do have a lot of work to do between now and next week to understand, because in every condition the Red Bull and the Ferrari seem a step ahead of us.

"I don't think they're exceptional, I think we're probably not as competitive as we would like.

"[But] I believe the guys are going get to the bottom of it. There is potential there, we just need to figure out a way to unlock that performance."

Lewis Hamilton appears to be back and ready to chase another Formula One title with Mercedes.

The contentious nature in which Hamilton was denied a record-breaking eighth drivers' championship in 2021 had prompted talk he would quit the sport.

Hamilton was pipped by Max Verstappen in the final seconds of the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix following a controversial decision from race director Michael Masi to let the cars between the pair – running first and second but separated by a series of lapped rivals – pass a late safety car and allow one lap of racing.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff warned it was "not possible" for Hamilton to get over the nature of that result, and little has been heard from the Briton since.

But the former McLaren man ended his social media silence earlier this month when he posted: "I've been gone. Now I'm back!"

And Mercedes' own Twitter posts have now revealed Hamilton is back with the team ahead of the launch of their W13 car.

After sharing a picture of Hamilton with the caption "Year 16", the Silver Arrows uploaded footage of new team-mate George Russell being fitted in his seat.

Hamilton appears in the video and greets Russell, and the team added: "Oh wait, Lewis is in this?" A picture of Hamilton with Russell followed.

Hamilton last year signed a contract that ties him to Mercedes through the 2023 season.

Lewis Hamilton is hopeful that future team-mate George Russell will be the next Briton to win the Formula One world championship.

The British drivers will link up next season, with Russell set to replace Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes.

The 24-year-old is 15th in the drivers' standings, having achieved his first podium with Williams at the Belgian Grand Prix, while also recording top-10 finishes in Hungary, Italy and Russia.

Many expect Russell to offer a genuine challenge to Hamilton, who recently signed a new two-year deal with Mercedes, with the latter seeking an eighth world title and just eight points behind leader Max Verstappen heading into the final two races of the 2021 season.

The 36-year-old is anticipating a healthy rivalry with his compatriot and hopes he can be a positive influence on the 2018 Formula 2 world champion.

"You've seen George is hugely respectful," he said in an interview published by BBC Sport.

"He's a super-talented young man and I think there's a huge amount of respect already going in, and we've got a nice balance at the moment.

"But he's going to want to be quick, he's going to want to show up and win, and do all those things that you do when you enter a new role.

"I remember in 2007 when I went up against [Fernando] Alonso [at McLaren]. Of course, I wanted to beat him at the first race, so I appreciate and expect George to have that mentality; otherwise he's not a winner.

"But I'm in a different place. I really want to see him succeed. There's going to be a point where I don't continue in this sport. He's my team-mate, and he's going to be the next Brit that I want to see win a world championship.

"So, while we are going to be competing, and I want to win on track. I really hope I can have a positive influence on how he conducts himself within the team, whether it's the time he commits to engineering or how he churns through the data, or even just how he drives on track."

Max Verstappen fumed at "stupid idiot" Lewis Hamilton and aimed a middle-finger salute at his title rival in a heated United States Grand Prix session.

The fight for the Formula One title intensified when the pair came close to making contact during FP2 at the Circuit of The Americas on Friday.

Championship leader Verstappen snapped over the team radio after going wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton, saying: "Ha! Stupid idiot!" and making his feelings clear with a gesture to the Mercedes driver.

A Red Bull engineer told Verstappen to "ignore it" as the Dutchman endured a frustrating day, having been caught in traffic at the start of the mid-session short runs.

He could only finish down in eighth in the second session as Sergio Perez set the pace, with Hamilton third behind Lando Norris.

Valtteri Bottas topped the timesheets in the first session, but will take a five-place grid penalty in Austin after having a sixth engine of the season – with three being the limit – fitted and a sixth exhaust.

Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff says there is a risk that Hamilton, who trails Verstappen by only six points, could take another grid penalty this season

He added: "I can't say whether we will be taking one and what the percentage is, but obviously the risk is still there.

"What is difficult to evaluate is do you want to pre-empt the situation and take another penalty and take the hit or do you want to really run it and possibly risk a DNF, and that is a discussion that is happening as we speak, and we haven’t come to the right answers yet."

Williams driver George Russell, Bottas' replacement at Mercedes for 2022, and Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel will start on the back row after they had multiple new engine parts fitted.

Valtteri Bottas, George Russell and Sebastian Vettel have taken grid penalties for the United States Grand Prix this weekend.

Bottas won in Turkey last time out, but a repeat would appear unlikely at the Circuit of The Americas on Sunday after the Mercedes driver had a sixth engine of the season – with three being the limit – fitted and a sixth exhaust.

The Finn, who sits third in the driver standings and was fastest in the first practice session on Friday, will take a five-place penalty for the race in Austin.

Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff said: "I think you see that we are suffering with reliability this year, we're going onto the sixth engine for Valtteri, and it is not something we choose to do, but on the contrary; we are trying to really get on top of the problems, and we haven't understood fully [what they are]."

Wolff says there is a risk that Lewis Hamilton could take another grid penalty this season as he battles for the title with Max Verstappen.

He added: "I can't say whether we will be taking one and what the percentage is, but obviously the risk is still there.

"What is difficult to evaluate is do you want to pre-empt the situation and take another penalty and take the hit or do you want to really run it and possibly risk a DNF, and that is a discussion that is happening as we speak, and we haven’t come to the right answers yet."

Williams driver Russell, Bottas' replacement at Mercedes for 2022, and Aston Martin's Vettel will start on the back row after they had multiple new engine parts fitted.

Hamilton was 0.045 seconds slower than his team-mate Bottas in FP1, with his championship rival Verstappen third-quickest – almost a second slower than Bottas.

George Russell is determined to maintain a positive relationship with Lewis Hamilton as he prepared to join Mercedes "on level terms" with the seven-time world champion.

Such equality will not be reflected in their pay packets yet, but Russell is adamant he is joining the Silver Arrows to race for wins, saying he has "high aspirations" ahead of his close-season switch from Williams.

The 23-year-old will follow Valtteri Bottas in partnering Hamilton in the Mercedes ranks, after the Finn took over the drive from Nico Rosberg.

The rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg was at times a fraught one, which has been the case between many great drivers in motorsport history.

But Russell says that for the sake of Mercedes making progress, it is essential the drivers start on a positive and respectful note, which is where he believes they are at present.

Speaking ahead of this weekend's Italian Grand Prix, where he will be driving for Williams, Russell addressed the importance of avoiding friction in a team.

"Yes, I think Mercedes have had clear experience of a sort of poor dynamic within the team and they've made it absolutely clear that they don't want a repeat and I think, on a personal level as well, I don't want that either," Russell said.

"I think it’s important for team-mates to work together, to push the team, and… next year, it's a new car, new regulations, there's no guarantees who is going to have the fastest car so it's our job as drivers to push that forward and I'd say as well, Lewis and I are at very different stages of our career, which I think also helps.

"And I have huge respect for him; being so much younger and looking up to him as a young karting driver changes that dynamic a lot. I don't see there being any issues at all."

Russell, quoted on the official F1 website, signalled that he saw his role at Mercedes not as being the second driver, deferential to the established leader, but as somebody who would receive equal treatment.

He said: “[I'm] definitely going in on level terms and that was made very clear to me.

"I think Mercedes have always been respectful in that regard, giving both the drivers the best opportunity, and obviously, naturally I believe in myself, and I have high aspirations, but equally I know how tough it's going to be.

"I think Lewis and I have got a really great relationship, we're at different stages of our careers, and we've got one goal next year which is to develop the car, push it forward and make sure that we, as two drivers, give ourselves the best chance of having the fastest race car and the only way we're going to do that is by working together to develop that."

The Monza weekend features a sprint race on Saturday to determine grid placings, rather than the familiar qualifying session, and Hamilton will again be going in search of a 100th grand prix victory on Sunday.

He has surprisingly won just one of the last nine grands prix, and the 36-year-old has been deposed again from top spot in the drivers' championship by Max Verstappen.

Next season, perhaps Russell will also be part of the title picture. Hamilton is relishing the arrival of his younger British compatriot.

"I think new fresh blood in our team is going to be great, obviously, because I'm the oldie there!" Hamilton said.

"I think that definitely will energise the whole team, knowing they have a new youngster coming through who's super-hungry, driven and will be pushing the team forwards."

A frantic spell has followed Formula One's mid-season break, with a number of noteworthy moves this week squeezed in ahead of the third leg of a triple-header.

Max Verstappen and Red Bull have two wins from two since the campaign resumed, but Mercedes have responded by firming up their 2022 plans.

George Russell is in, with Valtteri Bottas out, replacing Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo. Raikkonen's final F1 season has been slowed by a positive coronavirus that continues to keep him out.

Alex Albon will get another chance in Russell's place at Williams, meanwhile.

But all thoughts of next year must now be put on the backburner as the series heads to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix.

Verstappen leads the way again, three points clear, but second-placed Lewis Hamilton has fond memories of this event, with seven pole positions, seven fastest laps and five wins – all records, the latter shared with Michael Schumacher.

A sixth victory is badly needed, preventing Verstappen from building up a head of steam again.

The Dutchman is looking for his eighth triumph of the year, a tally that only Hamilton himself in 2016 (10 wins) has reached without ending the year as world champion.

LAST TIME OUT

It was routine for Verstappen at Zandvoort as he became the first home winner of the returning Dutch GP.

The Red Bull superstar took pole comfortably and capitalised on a track that makes overtaking extremely difficult.

With Mercedes also running a slower car, Hamilton's only hope was a strategic triumph.

But Verstappen followed his rival in the first two times he pitted, wiping out any advantage, and the Briton ultimately settled for pitting a third time to pursue the fastest lap.

Ahead of his big move, it was a weekend to forget for Russell, who crashed in Q2 and then endured difficulties on race day, also speeding in the pit lane to end any chance of a points finish.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN ITALY

Sprint qualifying returns after a mixed reception at Silverstone, where Hamilton took pole for the shorter race but was beaten by Verstappen in the Saturday dash.

In a championship as tight as this, the extra points on offer could prove crucial.

The race will be of primary concern, though, and Mercedes need a result at a circuit Hamilton enjoys. The defending champion last week acknowledged Red Bull had pulled clear again in the second half of the season.

But the Austrian outfit will also want a better display from Sergio Perez, their second man.

His underwhelming performance in the Netherlands left Verstappen all alone against Hamilton and Bottas, who will want to bow out with a fifth constructors' title.

TOP FIVE OPTA FACTS

Fixture on the calendar – This will be the 70th grand prix at Monza, a record that explains why so many F1 benchmarks have been set in Italy. Schumacher's 247.6 km/h in 2003 stands as the fastest average speed from a race winner, while an unsurpassed eight different drivers led the 1971 edition.

Ferrari frustration – Although Ferrari have recorded 19 wins and 21 pole positions at Monza, neither Scuderia driver finished their previous home race. Not 1970 to 1972 have Ferrari had both men fail to finish consecutive Italian GPs.

Another Lewis landmark – On 3,999.5 points, Hamilton will aim to become the first F1 driver to reach 4,000. He is almost 1,000 clear of his nearest rival Sebastian Vettel, who has 3,053.

Latest Honda hero – Verstappen's next victory will be his 13th with a Honda engine, matching Nigel Mansell's tally. The pair trail only Ayrton Senna (32) in that regard.

A day to remember – Verstappen and Hamilton will be hoping to add this to the list of famous September 12 races: Fernando Alonso's only Monza win with Ferrari in 2010, Niki Lauda's 1976 return after his Nurburgring crash and Jackie Stewart's breakthrough 1965 triumph.

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 224.5
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 221.5
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 123
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 114
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 108

Constructors

1. Mercedes – 344.5
2. Red Bull – 332.5
3. Ferrari – 181.5
4. McLaren – 170
5. Alpine – 90

Mercedes confirmed the worst-kept secret in Formula One this week as they announced George Russell will drive for the Silver Arrows.

Russell will take the seat of Valtteri Bottas, who is set to join Alfa Romeo after failing to mount a drivers' championship challenge during his time with Mercedes.

A product of the Mercedes junior driver programme, Russell earned his spot with Mercedes through a series of impressive performances for Williams, while he was also praised for his display filling in for future team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix last year.

But how do Russell and his predecessor compare? Stats Perform looks at the numbers from their respective careers to assess whether Russell can be an upgrade.

Bottas too often the bridesmaid

Bottas has sprayed the post-race champagne plenty of times already this season. He has claimed seven podiums in 2021 but has not been on the top step. Indeed, with six third-place finishes and one second-place, Bottas has collected the most podiums without winning in the campaign so far.

That is reflective of Bottas' career with Mercedes. Unlike the man he succeeded, Nico Rosberg, Bottas has never truly been a threat to Hamilton despite the dominance the team has enjoyed.

The Finn has finished second 29 times in his career, more than any other driver who has failed to win the championship. Only Rubens Barrichello can match him. Since 2017 when he joined Mercedes from Williams, Bottas' total of 45 second and third-places finishes is more than any other driver.

And when he reflects on his Mercedes tenure, Bottas will in part have to look back on a number of missed opportunities. Rene Arnoux (11.1%, 2 of 18) and Nelson Piquet (20.8%, 5 of 24) are the only drivers to in F1 history to claim a lower percentage of victories from pole position than Bottas (29.4%), who has qualified fastest 17 times but gone on to win the race on just five occasions.

 

George growing in stature

While it can be argued Bottas has struggled to get the best out of what has been, for the most part, the clear top car on the grid, Russell has this year taken a Williams car that pales in comparison to what the team produced during their glory years beyond expectations.

Though his second-place at the Belgium Grand Prix was secured in part because the weather meant only two laps could be completed behind the safety car, his reward for a brilliant qualifying performance made him the first Williams driver to claim second since Lance Stroll in 2017.

Russell has elevated Williams from backmarkers to regular residents in the midfield, reaching Q2 of qualifying in 12 of 13 attempts in 2021. He had reached that stage nine times in his previous 37 qualifying appearances.

Even when the Williams car was the worst in the field in 2019, Russell still had the edge over Robert Kubica in qualifying. He qualified ahead of his team-mate in all 21 grands prix, becoming the first rookie driver to achieve that feat.

Bottas had the edge at the Sakhir Grand Prix when Hamilton was absent, beating Russell to pole, but the Brit was only denied victory as a puncture handed the win to Sergio Perez.

If he can avoid such misfortune going forward, Russell's track record with Williams this year indicates he could provide Hamilton with stiff competition in qualifying and on raceday.

George Russell said he is "absolutely buzzing" for next season's Formula One world championship after he agreed a move to Mercedes.

It was confirmed on September 6 that Valtteri Bottas would be ending his Mercedes stint after five seasons with the team, joining Alfa Romeo for 2022 on a multi-year deal.

Bottas has served as the second-seat driver to Lewis Hamilton, helping Mercedes to four constructors' titles.

However, with the Finn now joining Alfa in the wake of Kimi Raikkonen's impending retirement, Mercedes have signed up Hamilton's fellow Briton Russell from Williams.

"Looking ahead to next season, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't absolutely buzzing," Russell said in a statement released by Mercedes.

"It's a huge opportunity and one I want to grab with both hands. But I'm under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge; it's going to be a steep learning curve.

"For now, though, I have nine more races as a Williams driver, and I want to make sure they are the best nine of my time with the team.

"Then, and only then, can I turn my attention to 2022."

The 23-year-old, who has signed a long-term contract with Mercedes, has spent the last three seasons with Williams and has achieved one podium finish in his Formula One career to date.

However, that came in contentious circumstances at this season's Belgian Grand Prix as Russell was awarded second after only two laps had been completed in sodden conditions.

When Hamilton returned a positive positive coronavirus test before the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix Russell stepped in to replace him, finishing ninth.

Russell revealed he is excited to become a team-mate of Hamilton's.

"I've looked up to Lewis since I was in go-karts," Russell said of the seven-time F1 champion.

"The opportunity to learn from someone who has become a role model both on and off the track can only benefit me as a driver, a professional, and a human being."

 

Russell was on the Mercedes young driver programme in 2017 and won that season's GP3 Series championship before he became Formula Two champion the following year.

Mercedes team principal Toto Woolf claimed Russell and Hamilton will provide a formidable team over the next few seasons.

"We are very happy to confirm that George will have the opportunity to take the next step in his career and join Mercedes," Woolf added.

"He has been a winner in every racing category – and the past three seasons with Williams have given us a taste of what the future could hold for him in F1.

"Now, it is our challenge together to help him continue learning within our environment and alongside Lewis, the greatest F1 driver of all time.

"I am confident that as their relationship grows, they will form a strong team and deliver for Mercedes on and off the track in the years to come.

"It's a weight off our shoulders to have our plans for 2022 clear and announced."

Lewis Hamilton has described Valtteri Bottas as the best team-mate of his career following news the Mercedes driver will be heading to Alfa Romeo.

Bottas, 32, has won nine races and helped Mercedes to four constructors' championships since joining the team back in 2017.

The Finn is now due to take the place of the retiring Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo, with George Russell expected to line up as Hamilton's new team-mate with the Silver Arrows in 2022.

Bottas will bring plenty of experience to Alfa Romeo, having twice finished as runner-up to Hamilton in the drivers' standings and also secured 54 podiums in 92 starts for Mercedes.

Reigning champion Hamilton says Bottas is a greater driver than he realises and has savoured sharing a garage over the past five seasons.

"I'm immensely proud to have worked alongside Valtteri for the last five years," he wrote on social media.

"Together, we've been part of a team that has delivered four constructors' championships, and we've motivated one another to keep pushing through the ups and the downs.

"He has been the best team-mate I've had the pleasure of working with. Your speed and resilience has been impressive but where you truly stand out to me is the human being you are and gentleman.

"You are greater than you know and I know there's a bright future ahead for you.

"Thank you Valtteri for all your support and amazing contributions to this team. You will be missed. I wish you all the best for your future endeavours. Let's finish off strong and get that 8th for the team."

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