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George Russell

Is Russell ready to take Hamilton's Mercedes team leader mantle?

George Russell is coming off the back of his poorest season in F1 - and now has the challenge of stepping up to replace Lewis Hamilton as team leader. Is he up to it?

Russell Las Vegas
Analysis
To news overview © XPBimages

The fact that George Russell is being prepared to assume the lead driver role at Mercedes is no great surprise - indeed, if he wasn't it would be more of a surprise.

He is the driver guided by Mercedes through the junior categories, collecting F2 and F3 titles and then serving an F1 apprenticeship with Williams before promotion to partner Lewis Hamilton.

The plan was for Russell to have two or three seasons alongside Hamilton, learning from the seven-time champion in the white-hot environment at the front of Grand Prix racing, before the elder Briton ultimately walked away.

Russell also effectively 'future-proofed' Mercedes by giving it its own 'franchise' driver in the same mould as Max Verstappen at Red Bull, Lando Norris at McLaren or Charles Leclerc at 'Ferrari.'

The lack of a driver for the next decade was perhaps the one great weakness in the Mercedes armoury as Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas won't be around come the end of the decade, but Russell plugged that gap and enjoyed a strong first season, comfortably beating Hamilton in the standings and winning, in a straight fight in Sao Paulo.

But 2023 was a challenge.

It was a season the Briton characterised as being "strange" and with numerous "missed opportunities" as Mercedes struggled with its second attempt at a ground-effects machine.

Russell himself felt there was a marked improvement in his qualifying and race pace, but he could just not execute clean Grand Prix weekends, whether it was picking up needless time penalties like in the United States Sprint or through multiple on-track incidents with Hamilton.

It was a scrappy, stop-start campaign, reflective of Mercedes' own campaign as the team committed to ripping up everything up and starting afresh for 2024.

The coming season will also see the team begin to naturally gravitate towards Russell and begin to lean on him for technical development as Hamilton heads towards the door marked 'Maranello'.

This will be the biggest test of Russell's credentials to be the team leader Toto Wolff has heavily backed him to be: driving the technical direction and moulding the car to his style.

It is something Hamilton did at Mercedes and what Verstappen has done at Red Bull, becoming the focal point for the technical team and providing the precise, detailed feedback a team needs.

On paper, the sharp, analytical Russell should be a natural fit, but being 'the man' is a different kettle of fish than being the 'second man'.

Assuming the team leader slot is the next logical step for Russell and there is a lot riding on it for him beyond 2025.

Should he assume his duties and carve himself out as a good successor to Hamilton, then might Mercedes be persuaded to opt for the rookie Andrea Kimi Antonelli as Hamilton's successor?

If Russell can't adapt, then Mercedes might be forced into looking for a Russell to Russell's Hamilton, an adept number two, capable of challenging more often than not the senior driver.

			© RN365/Michael Potts
	© RN365/Michael Potts

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