British driver George Russell will stand in for Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes-AMG for this weekend's Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain, following the seven-time champion's positive Covid-19 test.
Russell, 22, has driven for the Mercedes-powered Williams F1 squad for the past two seasons and is a member of the Mercedes junior driver programme. Willams has released Russell for the temporary switch. He will be replaced by fellow Briton Jack Aitken, who currently races in Formula 2.
Whle Russell has yet to score a point in F1, he has consistently impressed with his efforts for the struggling Williams team. Mercedes-AMG picked him ahead of reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne, with Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff saying his experience of racing current F1 cars was a major attraction.
"George has shown impressive form this year with Williams, playing an instrumental role in their climb up the grid, and I'm optimistic that he will deliver a strong performance alongside Valtteri [Bottas], who will be a demanding reference for him," said Wolff.
Russell said: "Obviously nobody can replace Lewis, but I'll give my all for the team in his absence from the moment I step in the car. Most importantly, I wish him a speedy recovery. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity and can’t wait to get out on track this week.”
Aitken, 25, was runner-up to Russell in the 2017 GP3 Series and has spent the last three years racing in F2. He scored three wins last year, but his best finish so far this season is third. He is Williams' official reserve driver and drove for the team in the Friday practice session at the Styrian GP in Austria earlier this year.
Aitken said: “I’m absolutely over the moon to have the opportunity to make my debut with Williams this coming weekend, and I'm extremely happy for George to have his chance too."
Why Hamilton is missing race
Hamilton has been forced to sit out the race after two positive tests for coronavirus. Hamilton won Sunday’s Bahrain GP, his 11th win of the season, and had tested negative in the run-up to that race. But on Monday morning he is said to have woken up displaying mild symptoms. It means he will have to wait to equal the record number of wins in a season, which currently stands at 13.
According to a statement from his Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 team, a contact of Hamilton’s whom he met before the Bahrain GP has since tested positive. “Lewis is now isolating in accordance with Covid-19 protocols and public health authority guidelines,” the team stated.