Formula 2 Championship leader George Russell will make his Formula 1 debut for Williams in the 2019 season.

The Mercedes junior, who is on the verge of clinching this year’s F2 title, is the first driver to be named in Williams’ line-up for next season and completes the latest piece of an unpredictable 2019 driver market puzzle.

Russell has impressed in his rookie F2 campaign, taking six victories to hold a 37-point advantage in the drivers’ standings, having already knocked McLaren-bound Lando Norris out of championship contention with a round to spare.

Sealing the F2 crown at November’s season finale in Abu Dhabi would replicate the achievements of Charles Leclerc in completing back-to-back championships, after the Briton stormed to the GP3 title in 2017 with ART Grand Prix.
On Friday, Williams confirmed that Russell would be joining its driver line-up for the 2019 season, marking its first announcement for next year.

“It is a huge honour to join a team of Williams’ prestige and heritage," Russell said. "Formula One has been a life-long dream. From watching the races when I was a child, it feels surreal that I will now be lining up on the grid, alongside drivers whom I have admired for years.

"I would like to thank Claire [Williams] and everyone at Williams for their faith in making this decision, as well as Mercedes, for their unparalleled support throughout GP3, Formula 2 and this year in F1.

"I am incredibly excited to start working with everyone at Grove and to take my first steps as a Formula One race driver. I cannot wait for Melbourne next year and to join Williams at the start of this exciting part of their journey.”

Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams added: “I am delighted to announce that George Russell will be joining Williams from the 2019 season. We have always tried to promote and develop young talent at Williams, and George fits that ethos perfectly. He is already highly regarded in the paddock and a driver whose career we have been watching for a while.

"In the time we have spent with him so far, we believe that he will be a great fit for our team; his commitment, passion and dedication is exactly what we need to drive the positive momentum building at Grove as we focus on the future. We are extremely excited to welcome George and working with him moving forward.”

Russell was signed to the Mercedes young driver programme ahead of his rookie GP3 campaign at the start of last year, following an impressive rise through the junior ranks.

He claimed the British Formula 4 title in his first season in the series in 2014, before moving up to European Formula 3, where he finished third with the Hitech GP squad in 2016.

The 20-year-old conducted in-season testing with Mercedes at the Hungaroring last season and went on to make his F1 practice bow with Force India in Brazil.

He returned to Force India to take part in the first in-season test of 2018 at Barcelona, before beating Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to the fastest time in August’s post-Hungarian Grand Prix test in his latest outing for Mercedes.

Lance Stroll’s expected departure to Force India opened the door for Russell to join Williams, which has endured a torrid 2018 campaign en route to slipping to the bottom of F1’s pecking order.

Williams has not yet announced who will partner Russell in 2019, though Sergey Sirotkin, reserve driver Robert Kubica, F2 frontrunner Artem Markelov and fellow Mercedes-backed driver Esteban Ocon – who is set to lose his seat to Stroll – are all understood to be in contention.

Aside from the sole-remaining seat at Williams, there are just three more positions to be filled heading into 2019. 

Force India is yet to confirm its anticipated line-up of Sergio Perez and Stroll, while the final seat at Toro Rosso alongside the returning Daniil Kvyat remains up for grabs.