Italian Grand Prix: George Russell expects no problems with Lewis Hamilton in 2022

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer
George Russell
George Russell is 15th in the 2021 drivers' championship with 13 points from 13 races

George Russell says he is "under no illusions" about the scale of the challenge of becoming team-mate to Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes in 2022.

The 23-year-old says it is a "privilege" to join Hamilton and expects no problems in their relationship within the team.

Russell said: "Mercedes have had clear experience of a poor dynamic within the team and have made it absolutely clear they don't want a repeat. I don't want that either. It's important to work together."

Hamilton's relationship with former team-mate Nico Rosberg deteriorated badly through their time together from 2013-16 and team principal Toto Wolff has made it clear he is determined not to experience that again.

Russell said: "Lewis and I are at very different stages of our careers, which also helps, and I have a huge amount of respect for him.

"Being so much younger and looking up to him as a young karting driver changes that dynamic and I don't see there being any issues at all."

He said it was "odd" to look back on the pictures that have been circulating on social media this week of him as a boy trying to get Hamilton's autograph in 2009.

"It was like meeting a superhero," Russell said. "When you are a child of that age, especially a racing driver, and you meet an F1 driver, you don't think these people are human. That was a really special moment for me. So it is pretty surreal to be lining up alongside him next year."

Hamilton said: "There is no doubt he's incredibly talented. I just know he will continue to get stronger and next year he will be bringing the heat for sure.

"It's ultimately how it's managed. It's a strange sport where it's a team sport but also an individual sport. You have those two championships. Individually you want to finish ahead but at the same time you have to do the job to get the team ahead.

"It's a difficult one to navigate through but I like to think we have experienced it and learnt from it and we should be pretty well set moving forwards."

Hamilton said he did not know whether Russell would prove a tougher challenge for him than Valtteri Bottas, who Russell is replacing at the end of this season.

"I don't know what to expect from George," Hamilton said. "I don't put expectations on him.

"I can't definitely say he will be faster than Valtteri or slower. I'm sure he's going to be very fast. I am looking forward to seeing his growth and what he contributes to the team.

"George is coming in to learn and he's got everything to gain. There is no real negative for him. It's all a plus."

Equal status for both drivers

Russell said Mercedes had told him he would be coming into the team with equal status to Hamilton.

"I am definitely going in on level terms, that was made very clear to me," Russell said. "Mercedes are always respectful in that regard.

"Naturally I believe in myself and I have high aspirations but I know how tough it's going to be.

"Lewis is a seven-time world champion for a reason and I think I'm going to be in one of the most fortunate positions to be able to learn from him.

"I see this partnership with Mercedes as a long-term thing and I need to use next year to learn what I can.

"I am sure we are going to race each other respectfully and hard. We have a great relationship and are at different stages of our careers and we have one goal to work together and develop the car and make sure we have the fastest race car. The only way we are going to do that is to work together."

Looking forward to the race weekend

Hamilton goes into this weekend's Italian Grand Prix three points behind title rival Max Verstappen after the Red Bull driver's dominant victory at the Dutch Grand Prix on Sunday.

Red Bull say they expect a tougher weekend at Monza, believing the competitive picture will swing in Mercedes' favour.

Verstappen said: "We did our homework and we can be very competitive. It is difficult to say where we will stand - I definitely don't expect it to be like Zandvoort."

But Hamilton said he expected Red Bull to be quicker in Italy this year than has been the case, because of the progress Honda has made with its engine.

"We could hopefully still be quick," Hamilton said, "but the Honda engine has had the legs on us this year and we've got these long, long straights.

"That's been the biggest step in performance [for Red Bull] this year, that engine. It will be close."

F1 is running with its new 'sprint qualifying' format for the second time. Qualifying is moved to Friday afternoon to define the starting order for a one-third distance race on Saturday, the result of which sets the grid for the main grand prix on Sunday.

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