Williams team principal Simon Roberts said he “assumes” that Mercedes junior George Russell will one day move on.
The Briton became one of motor racing’s brightest prospects at junior level with the backing of Mercedes, winning the 2017 GP3 title and then the 2018 F2 Championship in back-to-back seasons, repeating the achievements of Charles Leclerc.
But Russell’s first two seasons in Formula 1 have seen him struggling to show his full potential in the sluggish Williams challengers.
A golden opportunity did arrive though for Russell at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix after Mercedes’ seven-time World Champion Sir Lewis Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19. Russell would qualify P2 in his place before taking the lead from team-mate Valtteri Bottas into Turn 1.
If it wasn’t for a botched Mercedes pit stop where the Silver Arrows fitted Bottas’ tyres to Russell’s car, and later a slow puncture, then Russell would likely have had a win on Mercedes debut to his name.
Russell’s three-year ‘loan’ with Williams is up at the end of 2021, and Roberts doesn’t imagine they will be able to keep hold of him permanently.
Instead, the team hope one day they can look back on their time with Russell and say they worked with one of Formula 1’s “greats”.
“That feels like a long, long way away but who knows,” Roberts told GPFans Global when asked if Williams were resigned to losing Russell at the end of his deal.
“We’ve got to assume that this [being with Williams] is part of his career, that it is not going to be his whole career.
“It would be nice to think we’ve worked with one of the greats one day.”
At the Sakhir Grand Prix Russell was initially in danger of dropping out in Q1, only to shoot up to P3 with a mega lap, and that Roberts said is just an example of Russell’s natural talent.
“He’s just one of those drivers that has a huge sack full of natural talent,” he said.
“What he did in Bahrain, that qualifying lap [to secure a Q2 spot], where that qualifying lap came from we don’t know.
“That was one of those special laps that you get every now and again in F1 and he can do that.
“He is very young but he comes from a good place and perhaps when people see that kind of lap in him that is what makes them think ‘this is the real deal’.”