George Russell given big chance after treading familiar path from karting to F1

British driver George Russell has been thrust into the sharp end of this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix as a replacement for world champion Lewis Hamilton.

The 22-year-old, from King’s Lynn in Norfolk, has yet to gain a single point from his 36 grands prix but, remarkably, will be among the favourites to win after swapping his uncompetitive Williams for Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Russell, in his second season in Formula One, is a member of the Mercedes junior driver programme.

When it became clear Hamilton would not be able to race after testing positive for coronavirus, the world champions contacted Williams about striking a deal.

Like Hamilton and many F1 hopefuls, Russell began his motorsport career in karting, in 2006.

Helped by father Steve, who acted as his mechanic, Russell won the MSA British Cadet Championship and the British Open in 2009.

His success through Formula Four and Formula Three, and claiming the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award, prompted Mercedes to snap him up for their junior programme in 2017.

At Baku that year Russell met three-time world champion Niki Lauda, who was a non-executive chairman of Mercedes.

When Lauda died in 2019 Russell recalled on Instagram how the Austrian invited him to a concert that evening, where they spent the night dancing to Black Eyed Peas and Nicole Scherzinger.

Russell took the role of reserve driver for Mercedes in 2018 and the following year made his F1 debut with Williams.

His best finish so far is 11th, which he achieved in Germany in 2019 and Tuscany this year, while he came 12th in Bahrain last weekend.

Russell apologised to Williams after throwing away a potential point – and a first point of the season for the team – when crashing while running 10th behind the safety car at Imola last month.

On Sunday he will become only the third British driver to race for Mercedes, following in the footsteps of Sir Stirling Moss and seven-time champion Hamilton.