George Russell tells Lewis Hamilton he has no intention of playing second fiddle
George Russell has told Lewis Hamilton he is not joining Mercedes to be the world champion’s number two.
Russell will be partnered alongside Hamilton at the Silver Arrows next year in a tantalising all-British line-up.
The 23-year-old Williams driver has been effusive in his praise for his soon-to-be team-mate, describing him as the sport’s greatest driver ever.
But speaking for the first time since his blockbuster transfer was confirmed earlier this week, Russell insisted he has no intention of playing second fiddle to the seven-time world champion.
“I am definitely going there on level terms,” he said in Monza ahead of Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix.
“That was made very clear to me. Mercedes is always respectful in giving both their drivers the best opportunity.
We all know how strong Lewis is. He is the greatest driver of all-time, he is a seven-time world champion for a reason, so I am in a fortunate position to be able to learn from the best
“I believe in myself and I have high aspirations. But equally I am under no illusions how tough it will be.
“We all know how strong Lewis is. He is the greatest driver of all-time, he is a seven-time world champion for a reason, so I am in a fortunate position to be able to learn from the best.”
Valtteri Bottas, bound for Alfa Romeo, has proved an able deputy to Hamilton in their five years together at Mercedes.
But the highly-rated Russell’s elevation from Williams comes as a risk for the grid’s all-conquering team with wounds still healing following three years of in-fighting as Hamilton and Nico Rosberg fought for the title.
Russell added: “Mercedes have had clear experience of a poor dynamic within the team, and they have made it absolutely clear that they don’t want a repeat. On a personal level, I don’t want that either.
“Lewis and I are at very different stages of our career which also helps. I have a huge amount of respect for him – being so much younger and looking up to him when I was in go-karting changes that dynamic, too.
“I don’t see there being any issues, and there is no reason why there should be any falling-outs. I am sure we will race each other with respect but race each other hard, just as Valtteri and Lewis have done.”
Hamilton, who heads into Sunday’s race at the so-called Temple of Speed, three points adrift of title rival Max Verstappen, has been vocal in his willingness for Bottas’ Mercedes stay to be extended.
Would Hamilton, 37, in January, demand number one status?
“That’s not my style,”, he said. “I joined Mercedes in 2013, and I said to [team principal] Ross Brawn that I want equal opportunities.
“That is the most rewarding position to be in because if you do the work, and you do succeed, you know you have done the job against whoever it is as their best. Winning when someone’s wings are clipped does not interest me.”
Despite his remarkable success, Hamilton’s reputation will be on the line when he lines up against Russell next year.
Perhaps tellingly, the Briton added: “George has got everything to gain. There is no real negative for him.“I have watched a lot of the racing he has done, the moves he has done, and there is no doubt he is incredibly talented.“I know he is going to get stronger even in these nine final races, and next year he will be bringing the heat for sure.”