Tuesday’s confirmation of an announcement we had come to expect brought an end to months of speculation over who would partner Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next season. 

The long-rumored plan became obvious on Monday when Alfa Romeo announced the signing of Valtteri Bottas to replace Kimi Raikkonen as its new team leader, leaving a Russell-sized hole to fill at Mercedes. 

Russell has had to be patient for a promotion he has long-seemed destined for, having earned his spot in F1 by claiming back-to-back titles in GP3 and Formula 2 and then starring in uncompetitive Williams machinery for three years.

Russell’s achievement of winning the GP3 and F2 titles was matched by Charles Leclerc, another one of F1’s brightest new stars who went on to secure graduation to Ferrari in 2019 after just one season in the midfield at Sauber. 

Max Verstappen’s fast-tracking to Red Bull came four races into his second season in F1, meanwhile, Lando Norris, who finished runner-up to Russell in the 2018 F2 championship, was handed a McLaren seat for 2019. 

Despite his consistently impressive displays in the slowest car on the grid in 2020, Russell was made to wait by Mercedes as it opted to retain Bottas for another campaign. 

Russell’s Mercedes move is just reward for underlying his credential, most notably by qualifying a stunning second on the grid in wet conditions at last month’s Belgian Grand Prix, and when he deputised for Hamilton at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix.

Sakhir - where Russell stood in for Hamilton after the seven-time world champion was ruled out with COVID-19 - is often considered as being the defining moment that acted as final confirmation for Mercedes of Russell’s ability. 

Despite having no experience of the Mercedes car, Russell was denied a sensational maiden pole position by Bottas, who was just 0.026s quicker. 

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In the race, Russell got a better start and led for 63 laps until a botched pit stop ruined his chances of victory. Even then, he still pulled off a bold, daring overtake on Bottas which proved to be rather symbolic. 

Since returning to Williams, Russell has taken another step forward on his impressive development trajectory with several outstanding performances in 2021. Those displays, coupled with Bottas’ struggles, ultimately put his graduation to a works seat beyond any doubt. 

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted replacing Bottas with Russell was not “an easy or straightforward decision for us” but could not deny how impressed he has been with Russell.

“Looking forward to 2022, we are very happy to confirm that George will have the opportunity to take the next step in his career and join Mercedes,” Wolff said. 

“He has been a winner in every racing category – and the past three seasons with Williams have given us a taste of what the future could hold for him in F1.” 

This is a move that is as much about the future as it is the present.

With the likes of Verstappen, Leclerc, and Norris all tied down to Red Bull, Ferrari, and McLaren, Mercedes needed its own rising superstar to add into the equation with Hamilton, now 36, heading into the closing chapter of his F1 career.

While Hamilton may still have another few years left in him, there will come a time when he finally decides to hang up his helmet. And when that day arrives, Mercedes must have a succession plan in place. 

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For Russell, what better preparation is there than having a season or two alongside Hamilton to learn from - and test himself - against one of the very best. 

“Now, it is our challenge together to help him continue learning within our environment and alongside Lewis, the greatest F1 driver of all time,” Wolff said. “I am confident that as their relationship grows, they will form a strong team and deliver for Mercedes on and off the track in the years ahead.”

How will the Hamilton/Russell dynamic play out? 

The most fascinating aspect of the decision is how the Hamilton/Russell dynamic will unfold next season. 

Mercedes was clear when it signed Bottas as Nico Rosberg’s replacement in 2017 that it wanted to avoid a repeat of the frictions it had to regularly contend with during Hamilton and Rosberg’s heated rivalry. 

After the difficulties of managing intra-team collisions and flare-ups across 2014-2016, Mercedes finally struck a peaceful and harmonious relationship in Hamilton and Bottas. The pairing has gone on to rack up four consecutive world championship doubles so far and has the chance to add another one this year. 

Although Bottas has often given Hamilton a run for his money, especially on Saturdays, it has been the Finn’s consistency that has ultimately let him down. As a result, he has never been able to mount a substantial title challenge to Hamilton, who has gone on to accumulate four successive world championships since Bottas’ arrival.

One of the biggest factors Mercedes had to consider when making a call over Russell or Bottas was the potential for it to destabilise the harmony that has been built up at the team. Why fix something that isn’t broken?

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Hamilton even said earlier in the summer: “I don’t necessarily see that it needs to change.”

Signing Russell comes with the risk that the environment within Mercedes could become more hostile. 

Ahead of the Dutch Grand Prix, Verstappen predicted that Russell would make things “very difficult” for Hamilton, who played down the prospect of trouble.

“I think it’d be quite good,” Hamilton said at Zandvoort when asked how he thinks his relationship with Russell would be. “I honestly think it’d be good.

“George is an incredibly talented driver, clearly. I would say probably the only highlight from last week [at the abandoned Belgian Grand Prix] was his qualifying lap. It was amazing.

“He’s humble. He’s got a great approach. Being British I imagine probably helps in terms of communication! 

“He is the future, he’s one of the members of the future of the sport. He’s already shown incredible driving so far. I’m sure it’s going to continue to grow.

“Where better to do it than a great team like this.” 

Russell is unlikely to do anything that would jeopardise his relationship with Mercedes, and given he has signed a long-term deal, there is no pressure or expectation to deliver a drivers’ world title at the first attempt. 

He will be expected to learn the ropes alongside Hamilton and help Mercedes win further world championships. 

But for a young, ambitious talent like Russell, the temptation to go for personal glory may become too great if he finds himself in a direct title battle against Hamilton. 

Only time will tell if Russell is more like Rosberg or Bottas but one thing is clear; the 2022 F1 season is already shaping up to be a mouth-watering prospect.