Lewis Hamilton has hailed the outgoing Valtteri Bottas as the best team-mate of his career – with George Russell set to be confirmed as a Mercedes driver on Tuesday.
Bottas’ departure to Alfa Romeo clears the way for the 23-year-old Russell to team up with Hamilton next season in a blockbuster all-British line-up.
Seven-time world champion Hamilton has spoken of his preference for Bottas to stay as his team-mate. But the Mercedes hierarchy have looked to the future by hiring the highly-talented Russell.
Bottas, 32, proved an able deputy after he was signed to replace Nico Rosberg following the German’s retirement in the days after beating Hamilton to the 2016 world championship.
The Finn, a nine-time winner, also provided some much-needed stability at the grid’s all-conquering team following Hamilton’s fractious relationship with Rosberg.
Russell will become the record-breaking Brit’s sixth team-mate. Hamilton fell out with Fernando Alonso in his debut season at McLaren, and did not always see eye-to-eye with Jenson Button.
“I am immensely proud to have worked alongside Valtteri for the last five years,” said Hamilton, 36.
Breaking news! 🗞 @ValtteriBottas will join Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN for the 2022 season and beyond, with the Finnish driver signing a multi-year deal with the Hinwil-based team. pic.twitter.com/2XNeMtUGMn
— Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN (@alfaromeoracing) September 6, 2021
“Together, we’ve been part of a team that has delivered four constructors’ championships, and we’ve motivated one another to keep pushing through the ups and the downs.
“He has been the best team-mate I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Your speed and resilience has been impressive but where you truly stand out to me is the human being you are.
“You are greater than you know and I know there’s a bright future ahead for you. You will be missed. Let’s finish off strong and get that eighth constructors’ title for the team.”
Russell’s transfer to take up the hottest seat in Formula One comes after three seasons with Williams, and a hugely impressive stand-in display for a Covid-hit Hamilton in Bahrain last December.
Five years. Nine wins. 17 poles. 54 podiums. And four Constructors’ titles.
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) September 6, 2021
Russell, from King’s Lynn, also produced a memorable qualifying lap to put his uncompetitive Williams on the front row of the grid for last month’s Belgian Grand Prix, duly taking second following the two-lap race run behind the safety car.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who worked with Alfa Romeo to keep Bottas on the grid, said: “This hasn’t been an easy process or a straightforward decision for us.
“Valtteri has done a fantastic job over the past five seasons and he has made an essential contribution to our success and to our growth.
“Together with Lewis, he has built a benchmark partnership between two team-mates in the sport, and that has been a valuable weapon in our championship battles and pushed us to achieve unprecedented success.
“He would absolutely have deserved to stay with the team, and I am pleased that he has been able to choose an exciting challenge with Alfa next year to continue his career at the top level of the sport.”
Bottas, who will replace the retiring Kimi Raikkonen, said: “It has been a privilege and a great sporting challenge to work with Lewis, and the harmony in our relationship played a big part in the constructors’ championships we won as team-mates.
“I am proud of what I have achieved in Brackley and I am fully focused on finishing the job as we fight for another world championship, but I am also looking forward to the new challenges that await me next year.”