Formula 1

Russell incredibly talented – Hamilton

George Russell (number 63) raced for Mercedes in Lewis Hamilton’s absence at the Sakhir Grand Prix in December and was a long-time leader of the race before a Mercedes pit-stop error cost him a potential victory

Lewis Hamilton has welcomed the idea of George Russell being his team-mate should the British rising star move to Mercedes next season.

Russell is expected to replace Valtteri Bottas at the world champions, while the Finn is tipped for a switch to Alfa Romeo. Neither move is confirmed.

Russell is “an incredibly talented driver” and “one of the members of the future of the sport”, Hamilton said.

Hamilton also said he expected their relationship would be “quite good”.

The seven-time champion had fractious relationships with Fernando Alonso at McLaren in 2007 and with Nico Rosberg at Mercedes from 2013-16.

But Hamilton said Mercedes were better equipped to deal with a rivalry between team-mates than they were when Rosberg was there.

“We have learned a lot how we approach things,” Hamilton said. “We have made lots of mistakes along the way. It is not a concern.

“With someone new, it takes time. But George has already been on the circuit with us.”

Russell was Mercedes’ reserve driver before he made his F1 debut with Williams in 2019 and drove for the team as a one-off stand-in when Hamilton contracted Covid before last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix.

Hamilton praised Russell’s performances in F1, and singled out his qualifying at last weekend’s abandoned Belgian Grand Prix, when he put his Williams second on the grid in the wet, ahead of the world champion.

“The only highlight from last week was his qualifying lap – it was amazing,” Hamilton said. “He is humble. He has a great approach. Being British I would imagine probably helps in terms of communication.

“At the moment, naturally I have to be super-supportive of the team mate I have right now. So that’s why I’m always supportive of Valtteri – because we have a job to do right now. Neither of us can win the team championship alone. We have to do it collectively.

“George has already shown incredible driving and I’m sure he’s going to continue to grow. So where better to do it than in a great team like this, or whatever team he goes to?”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen said he expected Russell would prove a tough challenge for Hamilton if he joined Mercedes.

“If he joins, for sure he will make it very difficult for Lewis,” Verstappen said. “He jumped into the car in Bahrain and from lap one was already making it difficult for Valtteri. The more time you have in the car and team, you become faster.”

Hamilton said: “It’s not like I have anything to prove. I have raced against some incredible drivers as team-mates. In my rookie year [I drove] alongside Fernando.

“If anything, if it does turn out I have a new team-mate, I’m in a different place in my life. I’m excited to see the youngsters coming through.

“It’s not that I want to lose to a youngster, naturally, but I am excited to see the progression of the sport. I am a fan of the sport at the end of the day.”

Russell revealed on Thursday that he already knows where he will be driving next year.

“I’m not going to sit here and lie and not say the truth,” he said at the Dutch Grand Prix.

“The truth is there’s nothing to announce. But I’m aware of the situation of where I’ll be racing next year and I was informed just prior to Spa [last weekend’s Belgian GP].”

Hamilton braced for booing

Hamilton heads into this weekend’s Dutch Grand Prix three points ahead of Verstappen.

The historic Zandvoort circuit is returning to the F1 schedule for the first time since 1985 and is expected to be packed with passionate Dutch fans, the vast majority supporting Verstappen.

Hamilton said he expected to be booed during the weekend.

“It’s naturally something you potentially expect,” he said. “I have never been someone who would go to an event and boo, but I understand it.

“You see it at football. It is just the passion they have, or the dislike they have for the opponents. I respect it.

“I have always loved coming to Holland. Amsterdam is one of the greatest cities. I know I do have some Team LH fans in the Netherlands – a small proportion! And I admire them for being able to withstand the boos.

“For me, I try to turn that energy they propel towards me and use it as a positive – and try to put it into driving.”

Verstappen said: “I look at it like this – when you go to a football match, you go into a home ground, the opposition will be booed and it is not up to the local club to go on the speakers and say: ‘Guys, you cannot boo,’ because it will happen. They are passionate and they will support the local team.

“It is not up to me to say: ‘Guys, you cannot boo.’ Do you think they will listen to me? I just hope they have a good weekend.”

Vettel backs environmental protest

The environmental group Extinction Rebellion is said to be planning a protest against the race on Sunday.

F1 has announced plans to go net-zero carbon by 2030 and Hamilton said: ‘It’s great that F1 are accepting and holding themselves responsible and detailing they need to make changes moving forward.”

Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel said: “It is important to raise attention and that’s why they’re doing it and that’s good. There are lot things F1 is planning. But is it enough? No. As humanity are we doing enough? No.

“It is vital we understand what is at stake and if we don’t get it, there is no future.

“It sounds very dark. But I believe there is a place for F1 – provided it is doing the right things and making the right moves. What they are doing is good but it is not much more than a first step.”

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