George Russell reveals the real timeline of Mercedes move after 2021 duel with Valtteri Bottas

Oliver Harden
George Russell punches the air in celebration at Spa 2021 with a prominent Mercedes logo alongside him

George Russell's podium at Spa 2021 was the highlight of his Williams career - and came after he had already signed a contract to join Mercedes

George Russell has revealed he signed his contract to race for Mercedes in F1 2022 a week before he qualified on the front row at the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix for Williams.

Mercedes academy product Russell established himself as a star of the future during his rise up the racing ranks, winning the GP3 (now FIA F3) and F2 titles in consecutive years in 2017 and 2018 before making his F1 debut with Williams in 2019.

George Russell explains Mercedes contract timeline

Despite limited opportunities to score points in the slowest car on the grid, Russell caught the eye with a number of eye-catching qualifying performances for Williams, culminating in his stunning performance at Spa 2021, where he qualified second behind Max Verstappen in wet conditions.

Russell’s grid slot was converted into a podium when heavy rain prevented the race from getting underway the following day, with the British driver confirmed as Lewis Hamilton’s 2022 team-mate after the following race at Zandvoort.

The King’s Lynn-born star very nearly repeated his qualifying heroics four weeks later in Sochi, where he qualified third – once again ahead of regular Mercedes drivers Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas – for the Russian Grand Prix. recommends

Follow’s WhatsApp channel for all the F1 breaking news!

Revealed: Five shocking F1 driver moves that turned out for the better

In an article on Mercedes’ official website, Russell has revealed he was already aware he would be driving for Mercedes in 2022 when he qualified on the front row at Spa, having signed a deal to replace Bottas ahead of the Belgian GP.

He said: “I always look back at qualifying for Spa in 2021.

“I had signed the contract to join Mercedes the week before, so I knew I had the full support of everyone, including Toto [Wolff, Mercedes team boss] and the board.

“Qualifying on the front row in a car that had finished last for the previous three seasons gave me more adrenaline than I had ever experienced in my life.”

Russell’s promotion to Mercedes came after he established something of a rivalry with Bottas prior to replacing the Finn in 2022.

After Hamilton was ruled out of the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix through illness, Russell was called up as the seven-time World Champion’s substitute and proceeded to qualify within a tenth of Bottas, leading much of the race on the Bahrain Outer circuit before a Mercedes tyre mix-up and a late puncture denied him victory.

In a wet-to-dry race at Imola in April 2021, meanwhile, Russell and Bottas crashed at high speed on the approach to Tamburello after the Williams driver took to the grass in an attempt to pass his rival and speared into the Mercedes.

Having been fiercely critical of Bottas in the aftermath of the collision, Russell was publicly rebuked by Wolff, who said: “I keep teasing him.

“I said if he does a good job he can be in a Mercedes, if not we’re doing the Renault Clio Cup and today we’re more close to the Renault Clio Cup.”

Russell later showed remorse for his reaction to the incident, admitting: “I made myself look a bit of a d**k.

“If I look back on how I handled that, I’d probably laugh at myself and say: ‘What were you doing?’

“I just looked like an idiot, like I’d lost the plot. And to be honest, for a second, I probably did lose the plot.”

Russell remains the last Mercedes driver to win a race, having claimed his maiden victory at the 2022 Brazilian GP at Interlagos.

Read next: What performance is missing from the Mercedes W15? The four key areas to address