Horner expecting Russell to be ‘snapping at Hamilton’s ankles’

George Russell has replaced Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes ahead of the 2022 season.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has predicted that George Russell will be pushing Sir Lewis Hamilton hard at Mercedes this year.

Russell has been signed to Mercedes to replace the departing Valtteri Bottas who has gone to Alfa Romeo, and ambiguity has remained over whether he will be able to challenge his compatriot in 2022, particularly under the new technical regulations introduced this year.

Former Formula 1 driver Perry McCarthy previously told Formula1News.co.uk that he expects Russell to be pressuring the 37-year-old, and Horner shares this view.

“Lewis is going to be massively motivated this season,” he said, as quoted by The Express.

“But he’s going to have more competition internally because he’s got a hungry competitive young team-mate who is going to be snapping at his ankles.”

Hamilton out-qualified Bottas 72 times in 100 races during the five years they spent together as team-mates and, while the Finn was occasionally able to better the seven-time champion, he was never able to mount a significant title challenge.

The 48-year-old maintains that if the Briton were expecting an easier time of it in 2022, he would be wrong.

“Life is not going to be getting easier for him, that’s for sure,” he added.

“George is going to be a big factor this year. He has been blisteringly quick in all the junior categories, he’s one of the standout talents and dealing with his drivers will give Toto a headache this year.”

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Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko has previously gone on record to suggest that, based on Russell’s performances, he may well be able to challenge his compatriot which would be advantageous to the Milton Keynes squad.

“I first have to see how fast Russell really is,” he told La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“In qualifying, he was fast last season. But in the races, he was hardly superior to Nicholas Latifi. So we have to wait and see how fast he will be in the race. If he can indeed match Hamilton’s speed, that could be an advantage for us.”

The 24-year-old has also insisted that he feels his time racing towards the back of the grid with Williams could cultivate the necessary experience and toughness to compete for a world title.

“I feel ready to fight for World Championships and win races. I would have loved to come into Formula 1 and be fighting for victories from my very first race,” he stated.

“Perhaps I’ll look back in 10 or 15 years and say this experience at the back end of the field has paid dividends for me in the long run. Next year I’ll be giving it everything I’ve got.”

Mercedes completed 393 laps over the course of three days of pre-season testing in Barcelona last week, the second most of any team, only behind Ferrari.

However, it was not without hardship, and Hamilton’s day two was hindered by a sensor issue, before he went quickest of anyone on the final day.

“It’s been an interesting few days,” he told reporters after testing.

“It’s not been the easiest or smoothest running. We have had some obstacles to overcome.”

Overall though, the 103-time race winner is pleased with how the final day went as he led a Silver Arrows 1-2.

“We would always want more laps but I am happy with today. I think I almost got 100 laps in today. So for half a day of running, that’s not too bad.

“[We are] a little bit behind on the last two days.

“The car is a lot different to previous years to drive, as are the tyres. But we’re working our way through it.”

His compatriot suggested that his team’s pace on the final day was not entirely representative as everyone will have been running on less power and potentially unfinished cars.

“Even though we are top of the timesheets, I wouldn’t read too much into it,” he explained.

“We have some improvements to make, as we’re not fully happy with the balance of the car and the limitations we have currently. But we have a good indication of the direction we need to go in.”

One of the key themes of testing was the “porpoising” issue that a lot of the teams appeared to experience, with the cars bouncing up and down on the straights due to the challenges posed by the new aerodynamics under the new technical regulations.

Russell indicated that some teams have been able to deal with certain proclivities better than others, and notes that Ferrari and McLaren look particularly consummate.

“It’s been incredibly intriguing and for all of us there’s been a lot of unexpected issues, which have been quite visible,” he affirmed.

“Some teams have it quite well under control, and some clearly do not. Lap time wise, I don’t think it’s representative at all.

“We were obviously on the softest compound of tyres, and the C5 is a very strong tyre around this track. I think the Ferrari and McLaren were looking incredibly strong.”

The teams will embark on three more days of testing in Bahrain, before contesting the opening race of the season a week later at the same venue.