George Russell says he will use his opportunity to drive for the Mercedes Formula 1 team to “become a better driver” and return to Williams “even stronger” than before.

Russell will step in for Hamilton at this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix after a deal was agreed between Mercedes and Williams overnight following the seven-time world champion’s positive test for COVID-19.

The 22-year-old Briton, who has been part of the Mercedes junior programme since 2016, said he was determined to make the most of his unexpected chance to drive the race-winning W11, which will give him a brilliant opportunity to end his points drought in F1.

“Firstly, I want to say a huge thank you to everybody at Williams for giving me this opportunity,” Russell said.

“I might be wearing a different race suit this weekend, but I’m still 100% a Williams driver and I’ll be cheering my team on every step of the way.

“I’m going to use this opportunity to lean from the best, become a better driver and come back to Williams stronger even stronger and be fighting as hard as we can for those points and to push this team into the midfield.

"A big thank you also to Mercedes for putting their faith in me. Obviously, nobody can replace Lewis, but I'll give my all for the team in his absence from the moment I step in the car. Most importantly, I wish him a speedy recovery. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity and can’t wait to get out on track this week.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff thanked Williams for its “collaboration and open-mindedness” in allowing Russell to make an unprecedented switch of teams during the season, adding that “positive and pragmatic” conversations between the two parties were key to striking a deal.

“It will not be a straightforward task for George to make the transition from the Williams to the W11, but he is race-ready and has detailed understanding of the 2020 tyres and how they perform on this generation of cars,” Wolff said.

“George has shown impressive form this year with Williams, playing an instrumental role in their climb up the grid, and I am optimistic that he will deliver a strong performance alongside Valtteri, who will be a demanding reference for him.

“This race will mark a small milestone for us, as we see a member of our Junior programme compete for the works Mercedes team for the first time. We have a job to do this weekend, and the full focus of our sporting efforts will be behind Valtteri and George in order to maximise our points score as a team.

“But, of course, our thoughts are also with Lewis, and we will be supporting him as much as we can to make a rapid recovery during his period of self-isolation.”

 

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