January 15, 2021


By Alan Baldwin

a child wearing a helmet: Bahrain Grand Prix

© Reuters/HANDOUT
Bahrain Grand Prix

(Reuters) – Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc says he would bet on George Russell winning Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix when the Briton makes his Mercedes debut as Lewis Hamilton’s replacement in the penultimate race of the season.

Russell, 22, has yet to score a point in 36 races with struggling Williams but he could go from zero to hero in Bahrain after seven-times world champion Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19.

Mercedes have won 13 of the 15 races this season — Hamilton 11 and Valtteri Bottas two — and been on pole position in all but one.

“I think he will show how much of a good driver he is this weekend,” said Leclerc when asked what Russell might be capable of achieving.

“A podium at least, but I have some hope of a win. I mean, it’s very optimistic but I know he’s very good. I could bet on a win.”

The Monegasque is one of a group of young racers who grew up together and progressed through the junior rankings — and who still have a close bond maintained this year through virtual races when COVID-19 closed everything down.

Leclerc, 23, was Formula Two champion in 2017, Russell in 2018.

McLaren’s Lando Norris, 21, runner-up to Russell in Formula Two, is another of the gang and he too felt sure Russell would shine.

He said he had sent a congratulations message before the news was announced, because it was so obvious he was going to get the drive.

“He’s probably going to score his first points in Formula One and a high chance to score a podium and maybe even a win. I wish him all the best,” the Briton told Reuters.

Norris will be the highest-ranked British driver at the start in Hamilton’s absence, currently seventh overall, but he knows it is a hollow boast given the car Russell has at his disposal.

He is certainly not about to indulge in any bragging.

“I haven’t (said anything) because I’m sure that after FP1 (first practice) he’s going to be laughing in my face,” said Norris.

“There’s no point saying things like that because karma will bite me quite quickly I’m sure.”

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Former world champion Damon Hill has dismissed suggestions Lewis Hamilton’s Formula One success is simply a product of having the best car.

Hamilton wrapped up his seventh world title – and sixth in his eight seasons with Mercedes – on Sunday with victory in Turkey.

Hill, who won with Williams in 1996, told BBC Breakfast: “It is a lot easier if you have the best car, I will say that having had the best car at one time in my career.

“But they don’t give you the best car forever and in my case, I didn’t stay with my team – they probably thought I wasn’t worth giving the best car to (any more).

“With Lewis, they’re tripping over themselves to keep him in the car. Mercedes have nabbed him at the start of their development as a team because they knew he was the best driver.

“The best drivers get the best equipment, and he’s held on to that position because no-one can touch him.”

Hamilton matched Michael Schumacher for the most world titles and Hill added that Hamilton’s record may be truly unassailable should the sport become more competitive. He said: “Michael beat (Juan Manuel) Fangio’s long-standing five world title record, and everyone thought ‘well, that’s an incredible achievement’.

“He went on to win two more and got to seven and we thought ‘that’s beyond reach’. There’s a fantastic couple of chats with Lewis at the start of his career, saying he didn’t think it’d be possible to beat it.

“I think there’s a desire to see more variety of winners in the sport – it’s great to see somebody dominate if they are that good, but it’s also great to see a variety of winners.

“I think even Lewis would say he would like a bit more competition from time to time because it is more thrilling, and it’s also more possible for him to show what he can do.

“But it also might make his total of seven world titles unassailable in the long run.”

What is your view? Is Lewis Hamilton’s success down to his skill, his car or both? Let us know in the comments section below

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