GEORGE RUSSELL gave a glimpse into life after Lewis Hamilton by topping the timesheets for BOTH practices in place of the Covid-struck world champ.
Hamilton is lying low in a Bahraini hotel room after testing positive and has been replaced by his countryman for the Sakhir GP.
George Russell got off to a flyer as he replaces Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes this weekend in BahrainCredit: Splash News
Russell is on loan at Williams but was given permission to return after Hamilton caught CovidCredit: Splash News
And, despite wearing a size ten raceboot, rather than his usual size 11s, Russell quickly proved he is capable of filling Hamilton‘s shoes when he does eventually quit F1.
Hamilton has not yet signed a new deal beyond this season and Russell is putting himself in the shop window to become his full-time replacement.
Russell, 22, was quicker than Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, in FP1 and FP2, with the Finn in danger of being upstaged.
But the young Brit played down his chances of winning Sunday’s race and said: “Just because I was quickest today it doesn’t mean I will be there tomorrow but we will see. We are getting better.
“I found it good. I am working with the best in business and learning every lap.”
Russell, who has not scored a single point in his previous 36 starts, could now be in for a podium finish.
But as he squeezes his 6ft 1in frame into Hamilton’s cockpit, he knows it won’t be a comfy run to the chequered flag.
He added: “I still have a lot of work to do to get comfortable in the car.
“I am pretty battered and bruised and we have gone through what needs to be changed in time for Sunday.
“There is so much to take in and learn and I am doing my absolute best to be as good as possible and it is tricky. It was a good first day but there is more to come.”
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Bottas is now under pressure to ensure he qualifies and finishes the race ahead of Russell on his Mercedes debut.
The Finn, who was down in 10th in FP1 and 11th during FP2, added: “It was quite a tricky day.
“In the first session the floor of the car was broken and the rest of FP1 was a waste.
“Second practice too was ok, I had one decent lap but that was deleted. Red Bull look quick and George looks quick, so there is still a bit of work for me to do.”
Merc boss Toto Wolff said that weekend was not a ‘shoot-out’ between the two for a spot in the team.
He said: “You can’t call it a ‘shoot-out’ when it’s about one or two races. That doesn’t give you any meaningful data whatsoever.
“If George does well it’s an indication that one day he’s going to be in a good car and hopefully race for victories and championships.
Valtteri Bottas (right) is racing with new team-mate George Russell (left)Credit: Splash News
Finn Bottas was sluggish in practice out in BahrainCredit: EPA
“But that is far away. He knows that. He just needs to deliver a solid job and not make any mistakes.
“We know that we [will] race next year with Lewis and Valtteri. Where we are in 2022 is not going to depend on George’s performance on an oval in Bahrain and in Abu Dhabi.”
Meanwhile, Wolff says Hamilton is ‘not great’ as he self-isolates and misses this weekend’s race in Bahrain – the first F1 race he has missed since his debut in 2007.
Wolff added: “Lewis is not great. Covid-19 is something you mustn’t take lightly and he is in safe hands, that is the most important.
“But it is those early days that are always not so nice. Mild symptoms and then obviously, as you can imagine, a race driver out of his car and combine it with Covid, he would rather sit in the garage.”
Wolff also says that he does not know how Hamilton picked up Covid-19 – believed to be at a private engagement in Dubai.
But nonetheless says he has not breached any team protocols in making his own travel arrangements.
Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton celebrate his seventh world titleCredit: Getty Images – Getty
He added: “Lewis doesn’t need to have permission from us. He arrives when he wants and jumps out of an airplane if he wants to.
“He is a grown up man and contracting Covid is just unfortunate. He has been protecting himself and wearing a mask. These things happen.”
Hamilton’s positive test means that Wolff has also had to put their contract talks on ice.
But with time ticking down on Hamilton’s deal, which expires on December 31, both he and Wolff know they need to get the contract signed.
He said: “The timeline for the contract is being pushed back until he recovers.
“We know we need to get it done but the priority is getting him back on his feet and then we will meet or on Zoom and put pen to paper.”