Williams Racing F1 team announced on Friday morning that British racing driver George Russell will drive for the iconic team during the 2019 racing season. The two parties claim to have signed a multi-year contract, which also fills the empty seat that Lance Stroll will leave when he moves to Racing Point Force India at the end of the year.
Russell currently leads the FIA Formula 2 championship by a healthy margin with one event to go. F2 title winners cannot repeat the series, and as Russell is on track for triumph, his Mercedes-AMG mentors had to decide whether to help him up into F1 or detour him through comparable feeder series (Super Formula, Indy Lights) for a season before readying him for F1. It appears that they opted for getting Russell's F1 career started as soon as possible.
When Russell lines up on the grid for the first time at the 2019 Australian Grand Prix, he will be the first British driver to race with the historic British team since Jenson Button in 2000. He will also be the first F1 driver named George in 45 years, the last being George Follmer, who scored a podium for Shadow in 1973.
"We have always tried to promote and develop young talent at Williams, and George fits that ethos perfectly," stated Williams's Deputy Team Principal, Claire Williams. "He is already highly regarded in the paddock and a driver whose career we have been watching for a while."
"In the time we have spent with him so far, we believe that he will be a great fit for our team; his commitment, passion and dedication is exactly what we need to drive the positive momentum building at Grove as we focus on the future."
Russell's contract with Williams is a multi-year affair according to the official announcement, meaning his tenure with the team is likely to be at least two years. Williams has yet to discuss whom Russell will partner at the team in 2019. Lance Stroll is expected to migrate to Racing Point Force India, which his father Lawrence and a group of investors bought out over the summer break. Stroll's teammate Sergey Sirotkin is also on a "multi-year contract" according to Williams CEO Mike O'Driscoll, as quoted by Motorsport.
But Sirotkin's place at the team is rumored to be unsafe. Soy Motor alleges that Williams will pass over Sirotkin for fan favorite Robert Kubica, who reportedly now carries enough sponsorship backing to earn himself a race seat—and allegedly more pace than either Stroll or Sirotkin. If true, this would complete the romantic comeback story of which Kubica fans dream, though as of present it remains a rumor, and Sirotkin's established contract with the team could be taken as evidence that he will retain his seat in 2019.
The Drive contacted Williams for official comment on the allegations that Kubica will occupy its second seat, though a team spokesperson declined to comment, stating that no decisions have yet been made regarding its second driver for the 2019 season.