Mercedes newcomer George Russell has explained the root cause of his tension with Valtteri Bottas. The Finn left the Silver Arrows at the end of last season after a five-year stint alongside Lewis Hamilton, with Russell coming in as his replacement.
Bottas finished third in the Drivers’ Championship last year, some distance behind title protagonists Hamilton and Max Verstappen.
However, the fact he pipped his Red Bull counterpart, Sergio Perez, to the third spot helped Mercedes to win their eight consecutive Constructors’ Championship and extend their unprecedented streak of dominance.
Russell had to make do with a far less competitive car, although a respectable 16-point haul was more than double that of his Williams team-mate, Nicholas Latifi.
Talk of the 24-year-old’s step up finally turned into concrete action when the switch was announced in September as Bottas committed his future to Alfa Romeo.
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Strangely enough, however, tension between the pair is not due to the changing of the guard, but rather an incident in 2020.
Russell made a one-off cameo for Mercedes at that year’s Sakhir Grand Prix after Hamilton tested positive for Covid.
The youngster came into the race with a point to prove and massive shoes to fill but got off to a great start and passed Bottas on the opening corner.
On the impressive pass, Russell told season four of Drive to Survive: “The overtake on Valtteri created this spark and this tension between the two of us.”
He repeated the feat later in the race, dismissing any notions of a fluke by passing Bottas again in the closing stages.
And the overall result might have turned out much differently if pit-lane mishaps did not disrupt Russell’s progress, leaving the former Williams man distraught at missing out on what appeared to be a certain victory.
It was not to be their last run-in, as tensions flared at Imola last season when Russell ran into the back of Bottas’ Mercedes when attempting to pass him on the approach to Tamburello.
The youngster issued a full apology after furiously confronting the Finn and slapping his helmet.
After years of fighting for wins and podiums, Bottas is set for an entirely different brief in 2022 when he will be the main man at Alfa Romeo.
The 32-year-old will race alongside Chinese rookie Guanyu Zhou and has already discussed hopes and expectations for the year ahead.
“I definitely feel like Alfa Romeo, it should be higher up than it is now, at least from what I’ve seen at the factory and the people, the motivation and everything,” he said.
“For sure, I’m realistic. I don’t think we’re going to be consistently fighting for the wins next year, like with Mercedes, but consistently being in the points in the first year with the team, I think that is possible.”