George Russell, ART, Sochi, F2, 2018

Russell handed F1 debut in place of Stroll at Williams for 2019

2019 F1 season

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George Russell will make his Formula 1 debut with Williams next year, the team has announced.

RaceFans understands from a source at the team the Mercedes-backed 20-year-old will take the place of Lance Stroll.

Stroll’s father Lawrence invested in Force India earlier this year and he is expected to join his father’s team in 2019.

Russell is the reigning GP3 champion and is leading the Formula Two standings with two races to go. Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams said the team has “always tried to promote and develop young talent 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.”

Williams has hired Russell on a “multi-year” deal. His appointment increases the likelihood fellow Mercedes junior driver Esteban Ocon will be without a seat next year.

RaceFans understands Ocon was unwilling to commit to Williams for more than a single season. He could be in the frame for a promotion to Mercedes at the end of 2019 when the team’s option on Valtteri Bottas comes up for renewal.

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George Russell, Force India, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
Russell has tested for Force India and Mercedes
Another driver in the frame for the Williams seat was Russell’s F2 rival Artem Markelov. Williams had talks with the Renault test driver but failed to reach a deal. Markelov’s father Valery was arrested in Russia earlier this month over a bribery charge involving Russian Railways, which has funded Artem’s F2 career.

Russell described his opportunity to drive for the former world champions as a “huge honour”.

“Formula One has been a lifelong 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 and everyone at Williams for their faith in making this decision, as well as Toto [Wolff] and the team at Mercedes for their fantastic support throughout GP3 and Formula 2.

“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 what we all believe will be the start of an exciting new journey.”

Russell will join fellow British racer Lando Norris making his F1 debut next year. He will be the third driver to make his debut for Williams in as many years, following Stroll (2017) and Sergey Sirotkin (2018).

View the updated list of 2018 F1 drivers and teams

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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121 comments on “Russell handed F1 debut in place of Stroll at Williams for 2019”

  1. Good for him. But that this means Ocon will be without a seat is truly farcical. And frankly, it says a lot about modern F1 that both Mercedes and Williams found Russell to be the more ‘marketable’ driver.

    1. Surely they’d have confirmed him alongside Sirotkin if it was a definite?

    2. @hahostolze This is because Williams do not want to take Ocon for one season. With Russell it will be minimum two seasons – the “multi year “ reference is made in the Press Release. Nothing to do with ‘marketability’. If Ocon had been available for two or more seasons then Russell would probably have been reserve driver at Mercedes.

      1. What makes you think that Ocon wasn’t available for 2 season? Or 3, or 5? He doesn’t even have a seat secure for next year and yet you believe that he has a secured one for 2020… in case you haven’t notice, Mercedes is already ditching him.

        1. Sensing a bit of ill-feeling towards Ocon and I think it’s skewing your views a tad.

          A 2 year deal for a debuting driver at a lower team gives him enough time to develop his skills in F1, and buys Mercedes more time to make plans for Russell/Ocon.

          Having Ocon sign a multi-year deal for Williams makes no sense, and would be a complete waste of his already developed talent. It actually makes more sense for him to sit the year out and see what happens the following year ie. perhaps a 2nd seat at Mercedes.

          1. Well, I really can’t stand that guy, but I don’t think I’m biased because of that.

            I really think Mercedes is turning their back at him.

            https://www.f1today.net/en/news/f1/241204/mercedes-admit-cutting-ties-with-ocon-is-an-option

            I’m just surprised how everyone seems to love and praise this driver that has caused more trouble than success

          2. What if Lewis does a ‘Rosberg’ at the end of this year? Maybe Wolff does know more then we do…

      2. @ju88sy well, neither one of us is an insider. I will defer to what I have read in multiple sources, including AMuS and other media, confirming that Ocon was offered Williams too on any number of seasons and Williams chose Russell, partly at the urging of Mercedes, because the British market is far more important for them, and they think (wrongly, IMO) that it’s likely Russell won’t be worse than Ocon. So I’ll gladly keep believing that, you do you.

        1. @hahostolze I have heard Joe Saward reference the British connection over the summer. The multi-year comment came directly from Will Buxton, on the pre-race Paddock Pass video for Suzuka as the internally expressed preference of Williams.

          1. In last couple days joe saward through up the possibility of a kubica-russell lineup at Williams. First piece of the puzzle complete.

    3. Indeed, @hahostolze.
      Ocon is a proven talent and expected to be ready earlier for the big team than Russell.

      And I always expected that Ocon would still have a chance at Mercedes (contracts don’t mean that much), but Bottas showed in Russia that he can be a fast driver as well.

      1. @coldfly I don’t really get a vibe from Mercedes that they want to replace Bottas. I get the feeling they are quite happy to have found a driver that is fast but still willing to play Rubens. All this talk from Toto, i think he’s glad to be rid of the in-fighting from the Rosberg days. Or are these speculations over what happens when Hamilton leaves?

        1. I think in an ideal world for Mercedes, you’d put Ocon alongside Hamilton in 2020, then if Hamilton retires/moves on (big if), have Russell alongside Ocon at Merc.

        2. georgeboole (@)
          12th October 2018, 13:07

          I tend to believe that Hamilton wants to end his carrer in Ferrari. Especially if Vettel leaves soon he ll grab the chance to prove that he can be successfull in a red car

          1. I tend to believe that Hamilton wants to end his carrer in Ferrari

            @georgeboole Just like Schumacher, Alonso and Räikkönen (twice) before him :D

          2. Interesting list; it seems that there is always something ‘after Ferrari’.
            @mrboerns

          3. georgeboole (@)
            12th October 2018, 20:53

            @mrboerns @coldfly didnt think it that way but its an interesting point of view.
            At least i hope the “after Ferrari” is not a McLaren. Schumacher and Raikkonen made far more decent choices

        3. @mrboerns I don’t think TW is glad to be rid of the in-fighting from the Rosberg days. His memories of those days will always be of Nico and Lewis absolutely dominating and locking up the front row most of the time. What a problem to have, eh? I will always respect TW for letting them race, for he knew that if he didn’t, then the globe would be in for just more of the same we got from MS/Ferrari…no racing in the pinnacle of racing, between the two drivers with the WDC/WCC car. TW offered us the opposite of MS/Ferrari and I think we should all be grateful for that. Some of the in-fighting was always to be expected. As if there was never going to be at least some degree of tension at times, and then combine that with the longstanding history between LH and NR, and I think ultimately nothing they did together at Mercedes should have been a surprise, and indeed TW and Mercedes managed it. They had re-signed Nico through 2018, so they obviously wanted more of the rivalry, not less.

          The difference now is that his hand was forced to take VB who was never going to match Nico at least initially, while at the same time Seb started to be a bother to the Mercedes cars. Hence the leaning toward team orders when Ferrari is willing to do it, and when Merc were no longer locking out the front row ala LH/NR.

          Sure we heard comments upon VB’s arrival that things were calmer and quieter on the team, but TW had to also see there was now a chink in the armour and Ferrari started making inroads. Methinks TW wouldn’t mind rather having ownership of the front row again, like they seem to have again now, and if he has to have the odd stern talking to with his drivers, small price to pay for dominance. And I don’t think TW is any happier hanging VB out to dry with orders, than he is having to get them to keep it together on the track with each other and not fight too much while they lock out the competition. As he has said many times, they are all racers at heart. Ordering a driver to not race in the pinnacle of racing is never ideal. Prudent due to the math at times, sure, but then when the math dictates it an order becomes unnecessary as things become a no-brainer. The one driver just isn’t in the fight. TW would prefer both his drivers be in the fight ahead of all others I’m sure.

          1. Just to add, after having to cede his position to LH a couple of races ago, VB acknowledged he can only look forward to next year, implying they will start next season at zero again, and then it will be a fresh opportunity for him to stamp his authority on the team. That would then mean a rivalry at Merc, not a one and a two driver, and as TW has put it moreso last year than this year, if VB is to actually take the fight to LH, then the gloves will have to come off, and there goes the love-in anyway. For VB to succeed he’s going to have to make LH unhappy at times if not all season. I don’t see that happening but the point is it will take for them to be a bit more like enemies rather than friends for that to happen…ala LH/NR. This is why I don’t always buy into rhetoric that a team should find drivers that get along and work well together. Sure that is part of what helps a team advance, but at some point they have to be out their racing for themselves too and the gloves may have to come off and some tension might have to creep in. And that all adds to the show, no? I know I don’t watch F1 to see “after you…no, no after you kind sir.”

      2. What has Ocon proven that others haven’t ? First half season he was always behind Wherlein who is not even in F1 anymore. Second full season behind his teammate by some 15 points. Third full season he sits behind his teammate by four points. Excellent drivers should prove to be ahead of teammates immediately.

        1. This
          Ocon is a very good driver but his record to date does not indicate he is Tier 1.

    4. To be honest Ocon to Williams probably wouldn’t do him any favours in the long term. Better to sit out 2019 and get a decent drive if possible in 2020. The paddock won’t forget his talent in the space of a single year. It’s just been a little unfortunate. I expect him at Mercedes in 2020 to be honest.

      1. “To be honest” to start and end your speculation? It adds nothing.

  2. Panagiotis Papatheodorou (@panagiotism-papatheodorou)
    12th October 2018, 10:33

    Hopefully Ocon will get a seat. Congrats to Russell for getting it, he deserves it.

  3. So Ocon gets stabbed in the back by his own employee….. The driver who should have the Mercedes seat Bottas is in, has nothing. Well done Mercedes!

    Good for Williams, 0,5 second gained at least, just by putting another driver in the car.

    1. Fudge Kobayashi (@)
      12th October 2018, 14:55

      Did you conveniently gloss over the part where Ocon refused to go for anything more than a 1 year deal? Teams have the right not to be treated as a stop gap as well you know.

      1. That was my reading of what was written too.

  4. Mercedes cannot dictate to Williams who they should hire. As the stiory unfolds it will become clearer why Williams has chosen him. the dollars will spill the beans

  5. Now they just need to announce Ocon next to him and Williams will be considered an F1 team again

    1. @johnmilk A Mercedes B-team, in that case…

      1. @keithcollantine it so happens that the best talent available belongs to Mercedes, that’s a lineup that I’ve been “preaching” for a while, for some reason that detail didn’t come to my train of thought. Surely they can have them both without the B-team moniker no? Please?

        Anyway, if they don’t go with Ocon, it will be a pay driver, Sirotkin or Markelov I’m afraid

      2. Pedro Andrade
        12th October 2018, 12:29

        Well, in terms of the driver line-up I’d rather a B-team with Ocon and Russel than an A-team with Sirotkin and Merkelov.

      3. Way better than they are now.

    2. Fudge Kobayashi (@)
      12th October 2018, 14:57

      Best thing for Williams performance would be to take Russel, Ocon AND a Mercedes gearbox for next year but apparently Claire is only willing to take 1/3 and thus they won’t be any further up the grid or in public estimation than they are now i’m afraid.

  6. I’m happy that he’s going to get a shot in F1 although at the same time not so glad that now this decision as a side-effect reduces Ocon’s chances for a Williams-drive even more. I wish he’d get the remaining seat there, but I don’t hold too much hope for it especially now following this announcement/confirmation. If not him then hopefully Sirotkin would be retained.

  7. Who is Bottas sleeping with that he keeps a seat at Mercedes ahead of Ocon…

    Has there been a less inspiring F1 driver. What a farce.

    1. When we went from having Hamilton vs. Alonso at McLaren to Hamilton vs. Kovaleinen. Was an even bigger waste of a seat, was good ol’ Heikki.

    2. Are you unaware that Mercedes signed Bottas for 2019 earlier in the season? The Bottas deal was completed at a point in the season when Ocon was looking ‘certain’ to move to Renault on a deal that had been agreed at senior level, albeit the contract was not completed.

      1. Totally agree with @Ju88sy. Ocon missed out on the Renault seat after RIC got the big contract there.

        And Mercedes is happy with Bottas because of his chemistry with Lewis. He brings in enough points for the constructorchampionship and accepts teamorders. It’s risky to switch to another driver (like Ocon), who wants to be the nr 1 driver, and pptentially have the Rosberg situation all over again.

      2. Contracts can be broken.

      3. Well as Toto apparently had struck a deal with both Peugeot and McLaren you can wonder how much of a deal it was.

        1. I am not sure why there is this automatic assumption that Ocon is a much better driver than Bottas. I have not seen sufficient evidence of this. He’s no Verstappen based on what I have been watching.

          I think he is definitely good enough to deserve a place on the grid though.

          1. It doesnt take an Verstappen to be much better than Bottas.

    3. Richard Gibson
      12th October 2018, 18:48

      What makes you so sure Ocon is better than Bottas. Ocon’s 4 places behind Perez in the WDC

      1. and 15 points behind Perez last year. And always behind Werlhein in his first year. Ocon haven’t shown good pace in races. So far, he is highly overrated judging by results …

    4. Are you forgetting that at the time he was signed for 2019, had it not been for abysmal luck (debris blowing tyre etc) Bottas would’ve been leading the WDC by some margin and would still be within a few points of Hamilton now?

  8. Good for Russell, I’m happy with this, Ocon deserves being left out, ever since he arrived to the F1 has been acting like he is the rightful heir of Mercedes, stating several times that it didn’t matter whatever happened at FI, because he was there only temporarily until he claimed his Mercedes seat. His arrogance has costed him.

    1. Interesting, I know he was under Toto’s wing, but has he really been arrogant? I haven’t seen much on that. Seems like a nice guy other than his spats with Perez (which is understandable).

      1. I’m a FI fan, at first I thought that this was a really nice kid, but he has been showing his true self over and over, unfortunately every time he was frustrated with the team due to the clashes with Perez, he would always recur and say that it didn’t matter because he was a Mercedes driver (specially last season, not so much this one to be honest)

        1. @drrapg This is the first time i’ve ever heard of this (got any sources) – are you sure you’re not conflating him with Wehrlein, who FI passed over for Ocon because of his [PW’s] attitude?

          1. Nope, I’m positive it has been Ocon’s attitude in the past at least. I will try and find sources, if I do, I will post them

          2. https://www.autosport.com/f1/news/138052/ocon-mercedes-seat-just-a-matter-of-time

            This is just an example of that, phrases like “The bosses [at Mercedes] have plans for me that are ‘not yet’, and, “If I stay here [Force India] or go somewhere else, I don’t know.
            “But I will have a great position for sure next year.”

            He has never felt FI colors, he has never cared about the team he belonged in that moment, he has been acting like the biggest shot out there (and he is good, just not that good) and just looking out for him

          3. Nothing wrong with dreaming of a Mercedes seat, seems a bit harsh. Ocon seems to come across pretty well to me, always chatting to Stroll before races despite him effectively being responsible for the loss of seat. His demeanor in dealing with Perez, especially after the Singapore disgrace has also been commendable.

            I don’t agree.

  9. Second seat still not confirmed yet… is there still an outside chance Ocon could get it? Does Russell bring much money with him?

    As a lifelong Williams fan, i’m happy that the sum total of driver talent in the team has just shot up! A driver who’s hat I won’t be embarrassed to buy when it comes to refreshing my yearly Williams branded cap…

    1. curious to know, which one you got this year

      1. I bought a Williams cap this year. I found one with no driver name on it (I love Williams despite the state of them at the moment but don’t support either of the 2018 drivers) I also managed to find one without Martini on it so it wouldn’t look too out of date in 6 months!!

      2. Hopefully Sirotkin

        1. Kubica doesn’t have a hat?

      3. non driver branded team cap, but deffo would have got a Kubica one if I had seen one; not sure they exist!?

        1. they don’t @travis-daye just checked on their official store

    2. Second one will go to someone with budget so no hope for Ocon there. However it is exactly what used to work for FI with Perez bringing considerable sponsorship with him. Let’s hope that Williams can find eqauly capable pay driver.

  10. Great news. Now let’s hope Ocon gets the other seat.