Briton George Russell said his new Mercedes team was heading into the 2022 Formula One season fired up to bounce back from Lewis Hamilton’s controversial title defeat in Abu Dhabi.
The squad extended their streak of record constructors’ title wins to eight last year but failed to make it a successive eighth title double after a controversial safety car call allowed Red Bull rival Max Verstappen to pass Hamilton on the last lap of the season-ending Abu Dhabi race to score his first championship triumph.
The loss was the dominant team’s first championship defeat of the turbo-hybrid era that began in 2014. It denied them a clean sweep of titles in the final year under those rules, with 2022 ushering in a radical regulation overhaul.
“I think following the conclusion of last year, there’s so much motivation and fire within the whole factory to bounce back,” said Russell in a pre-recorded interview released by Mercedes. “And that is incredible for me to see.”
Russell, whose career has been supported by Mercedes, joins the Brackley-based squad after three years at power unit customer Williams where he had been placed to learn the ropes.
The 23-year-old put in a cameo as a stand-in for Hamilton, sidelined by Covid-19, at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, very nearly winning on his Mercedes debut.
“In a way it feels like returning home to people who I’ve known for such a long time,” said Russell. “Because I’ve spent so much time with the team prior to joining Williams in Formula One as a junior driver, I feel like I know everybody so well already.”
Russell is set to line up alongside seven-time champion Hamilton this season. Hamilton’s future has been the subject of speculation but the 37-year-old Briton has been listed on the schedule for Mercedes’s 2022 car launch on Feb 18.
The governing FIA has launched an investigation into events at the Abu Dhabi finale where race director Michael Masi altered the safety car procedure, moving only the lapped cars between race-leading Hamilton and second-placed Verstappen out of the way.
The outcome of the probe will be put before a meeting of the Formula One commission on Monday. Final decisions are expected to be announced at the World Motor Sport Council on March 18, the same day as the first practice session for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.