MANAMA (Reuters) – Lewis Hamilton’s boots are too small for George Russell’s size-11 feet, but the young Briton will still have big shoes to fill as he prepares to stand in for the seven-times Formula One world champion at the Sakhir Grand Prix.
The 22-year-old Russell has been handed the opportunity of a lifetime, vaulting from his back-of-the-grid Williams into the dominant Mercedes alongside Valtteri Bottas, after Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19.
The temporary promotion has been viewed in some quarters as a head-to-head between Russell and Bottas for a seat at the world champion team in 2022.
But Russell, who is yet to score a point in his Formula One career, isn’t letting the pressure, thoughts of a maiden pole position or even victory in a car that has won 13 of this season’s 15 races get to him.
“I’m going to go out there, I’m going to enjoy it,” he told reporters via video conference.
“There’s been no targets, no expectations expected from me by (team principal) Toto (Wolff), by Mercedes, because you can’t judge somebody off the back of one race.”
Russell’s career has been backed by Mercedes but he has been placed at engine-customer Williams, with whom he made his Formula One debut in 2019, to learn the ropes.
He described the 48 hours between learning of Hamilton’s positive test result and being confirmed at Mercedes as intense.
“I got a phone call from Toto (Wolff) at two AM on Tuesday morning. I was actually in the bathroom at the moment which was slightly awkward.
“Very anxious on Tuesday waiting to find out if we could strike a deal with Williams and I need to say a massive thank you to them for allowing me this opportunity and here we are,” said Russell, adding he had counted 64 calls on his phone amid the back and forth to get the deal done.
Russell, who knows the team at Mercedes from having spent two years there as reserve and simulator driver, said fitting back in would be a challenge.
But perhaps not as much as slotting into a cockpit constructed for Hamilton which has forced him to squeeze into smaller shoes.
“My size 11 feet were a struggle so I’m having to wear a size smaller shoe than would be ideal,” said Russell.
“So that’s slightly uncomfortable but I’m sure I can endure the pain.”
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; editing by Ed Osmond)