AlphaTauri to keep Gasly and Tsunoda; Alpine’s Alonso and Red Bull’s Perez get contract extensions
By Yuri Coghe
The dominoes have started to fall.
After months of speculation about who would wear Mercedes colours in the 2022 season alongside Lewis Hamilton, the German team finally announced on Tuesday that fellow Briton George Russell is the chosen one.
The 23-year-old will replace Valtteri Bottas, who will leave the outfit after five years. The 32-year-old will take over for fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who will retire at the end of the season, as the main Alfa Romero driver in a multi-year deal.
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Russell, one of the most promising young talents in the series, has been turning heads for Williams in the last three seasons despite it being one of the worst teams in the grid. He recently claimed a podium in Belgium and has also impressed for his constant overachieving on qualifying sessions.
Bottas, so far, has collected 9 race wins, 54 podiums, 17 pole positions and two-second places in the drivers’ championship during his five seasons with Mercedes. He currently sits third in the drivers’ standings with 123 points, helping Mercedes stay on top of Red Bull in the constructors’ standings.
Unlike Hamilton’s former teammate Nico Rosberg, who won the 2016 world championship before retiring, Bottas failed to serve as a proper challenge for the seven-time world champion. Instead, he provided a way less conflictual environment for the Mercedes garage and helped them claim four straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships.
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Bottas ‘hungry as ever’
“I am so proud of everything we have achieved together in my time with Mercedes – and it is not over yet, because we have our biggest challenge so far to try and claim our eighth constructors’ title,” said Bottas in a press release.
“I am really pleased to have chosen my new challenge with Alfa Romeo, an exciting and iconic manufacturer, and by the opportunity to help lead the team forward up the grid. I’m as hungry as ever to race for results and when the time comes, for wins.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff applauded Bottas’ contributions over the years.
“This hasn’t been an easy process or a straightforward decision for us,” Wolff said in a press release. “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.”
“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.”
More on the Bottas/Russell saga:
Bottas ‘not worried’ about ‘bull****’ rumours’; Hamilton asks people to give his teammate a break
Russell in, Bottas out? Mercedes rumoured to be thinking about a mid-season driver change
Not your average crash: why the accident between Russell and Bottas in Imola is more than what meets the eye
Hamilton also praised “the best teammate he’s ever had”.
“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 teammate I’ve had the pleasure of working with,” Hamilton said on social media.
“Your speed and resilience have 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.”
Bottas’ experience will be of great value to his next F1 team, according to Alfa Romeo’s team principal Frédéric Vasseur.
“With (Bottas), we bring to Hinwil a strong team player with experience at the sharp end of the grid,” said Vasseur in a press release. “Valtteri has been an integral part of a team that rewrote the history books and he has four constructors’ world titles to his name: he is the right driver to help Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN make a step forward towards the front of the grid.”
“Our relationship goes back a long way, to when we worked together in successful campaigns in F3 and GP3, and his talent and skills have been evident ever since, only growing with the time.”
‘Mixed emotions’ for Russell
A Williams driver since 2019, 2018 F2 champion Russell has had his career backed by Mercedes for a long time. Now it’s time to hit the main stage.
“It’s a special day for me personally and professionally, but also a day of mixed emotions,” Russell said in a press release. “I’m excited and humbled to be joining Mercedes next year, which is a huge career step, but it also means I’ll be saying goodbye to my teammates and friends at Williams.”
“(As a Mercedes driver next season,) My target must be to reward the trust that Toto (Wolff), the team, and the board have placed in me by ensuring I play my part in continuing that success and I want to do my new team-mates proud.”
“Of course, one of those new team-mates is in my opinion the greatest driver of all time,” he added. “I’ve looked up to Lewis since I was in go-karts and the opportunity to learn from someone who has become a role model both on and off track can only benefit me as a driver, a professional, and a human being.”
Wolff said announcing both moves has taken “weight off our shoulders,” even though “our focus returns to the final nine races of this season and putting everything into our challenge for this year’s world championships.”
“(Russell) has been a winner in every racing category – and the past three seasons with Williams have given us a taste of what the future could hold for him in F1,” said Wolff. “Now, it is our challenge together to help him continue learning within our environment and alongside Lewis (Hamilton), the greatest F1 driver of all time.”
More driver deals:
Two more years: Hamilton agrees Mercedes contract extension: “We still have a lot to do”
Ocon signs three-year extension with Alpine: “it’s a fantastic feeling to secure my future with the team”
Norris signs multi-year deal with McLaren: “I want to become a world champion with this team”
Hamilton also welcomed his future third Mercedes teammate with compliments.
“He is a great example to all the kids out there that dreams do come true when you chase them wholeheartedly,” said Hamilton on social media. “Through hard work he has rightly earned his spot on our team. I look forward to seeing him grow as a driver with this great team and working with him to raise Mercedes higher.”
Russell to be missed at Williams
Canadian driver Nicholas Latifi, who served as Russell’s teammate in the last two seasons, and Williams team principal Jost Capito have already started to miss Russell.
“Super happy for you man,” said Latifi on Twitter. “A well-deserved opportunity that I know you’ll take full advantage of! Been a pleasure to drive alongside you.”
“Over the past three years, it’s been clear to every member of staff here at Williams just how dedicated, focused, and talented George is through his contributions to the team both on and off track,” said Capito in a press release.
“He has all the characteristics necessary to achieve the greatest success in our sport and we are therefore delighted for him, both as a team and me personally, to see him rewarded with the opportunity to test himself at Mercedes.”
Rest of the grid
AlphaTauri recently confirmed they’re keeping Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda for the 2022 season. Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso will also stay with their current outfits in the next year, as confirmed by both squads last week.
Only three seats are still “available” for 2022 as both Williams drivers and Bottas’ Alfa Romeo teammate still need to be officially announced. This means Latifi and Antonio Giovinazzi, currently Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo teammate, could leave the series at the end of the year.
While Haas and Canadian-owned Aston Martin have not yet confirmed their driving duos for 2022, it’s expected that both outfits will keep their current lineup, consisting of Mick Schumacher/Nikita Mazepin and Sebastian Vettel/Lance Stroll, respectively.