Earlier this week, we explored if Lando Norris might be the better option for Red Bull than Sergio Perez and Pierre Gasly, but could George Russell’s name be thrown into the mix as well?
Russell signed for Mercedes over the winter to replace the departing Valtteri Bottas having scored points four times for the struggling Williams team, including his surprise podium at last year’s Belgian Grand Prix.
But things have not gotten off to the best of starts at Mercedes in the first two races of 2022; he was out-qualified by a second by team-mate Sir Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain, and ended up seventh tenths behind predecessor Bottas as he ended the session ninth, a damming indictment of the Silver Arrows’ failure to adapt to the new technical regulations.
Russell did, however, convincingly out-qualify Hamilton in Saudi Arabia a week later, ending the race in fifth while the 37-year-old finished in P10.
Ex-F1 racer David Coulthard praised Russell after the race in Jeddah, saying: “I’ve been super-impressed. For me, he’s a brilliant all-round package.
“He has speed, he has excellent communication skills; he’s a modern version of a top professional racing driver.”
The opening two rounds of the year have yet to yield a podium for the 24-year-old, and Mercedes’ 2022 chassis and floor has sown little aptitude thus far due to the new ground effect aerodynamics, leaving the Brackley squad scratching their heads as they seek a sustainable solution to the “porpoising” problems they have been experiencing.
Russell has maintained that his team are still very much in with a shout of competing for the title this year if they can turn things around fairly quickly.
“We’re definitely not out after two races. Even if we continue like this for five, six, seven, eight races, we’re still within striking distance. There’s no reason why we can’t [turn it around],” he affirmed.
This indicates that Russell is very much dedicated to what has now become a project for the eight-time constructors’ champions to get back to the front of the grid, so there is little question as to where his loyalties lie.
This is especially important given the faith Toto Wolff showed in Russell as a junior when his Mercedes team convinced the young racer to make his way up through the junior formulae instead of going to DTM in 2015.
But that does not mean to say that Red Bull will not show interest in the 2018 Formula 2 champion and, with Sergio Perez out of contract at the end of this season, the Milton Keynes side will have a choice to make as to whether they keep the Mexican on, promote Pierre Gasly from AlphaTauri, or look somewhere entirely different and lure the likes of Norris or Russell away from McLaren and Mercedes.
Advisor Dr Helmut Marko has reiterated before that the five-time champions “don’t want” Gasly, who was demoted back to the junior team after a horrible half season in the main fold in 2019, to leave when his own contract expires at the end of next year.
It may prove prudent to choose familiarity with the system over two drivers who seem committed to their teams – Norris has recently signed a McLaren contract until the end of 2025 – so it seems that Gasly would be the more sensible option for Red Bull should they decide to axe Perez.